By Kathryn Colasanti, CRFS Michigan Good Food Coordinator and MFIN Impacts Subcomittee Chair
On a chilly day in early April, before spring had even taken root, Michigan State University Culinary Services took an evening to celebrate the bounty of Michigan’s farms. And they didn’t even break a sweat.
“It was really easy to do,” said Executive Chef Bryan Latz, who designed the menu for the Midwest Best Dinner at South Pointe Dining inside the Case Residence Hall on April 12. “I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life and there is so much the state has to offer.” Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski, Corporate Chef for Culinary Services, agrees. “Don’t think you can’t do it,” he says to other prospective food service programs. “It’s pretty doable. It was fun to take the time to celebrate everything this area has to offer.”
Local sourcing is doable, even when serving 32 dishes at 8 stations to nearly 2000 people in an evening. But this celebration of Michigan foods also didn’t emerge from thin air. The event built on years of developing sourcing relationships with local farmers and producers. In 2010, MSU developed a “Farm-to-MSU Guide” that laid out a vision of greater support for Michigan-based, sustainable agriculture from the university’s food service and kick-started increasingly greater levels of local purchasing. In 2014, MSU joined Cultivate Michigan, committing to source twenty percent of their food from Michigan by 2020.
“A lot of these are products we’re getting anyway,” said Chef Kwiatkowski. “We just found a way to feature them all together in one meal.” But there were also some firsts. The dinner featured pork from MSU’s Meat Lab for the first time. And the relationship had delicious results. The Spicy Smoked MSU Pork Loin with Cherry Glaze from Herkner Farms, which was complemented beautifully by a hash of root vegetables grown at the Student Organic Farm, was a highlight of the evening. The 15 Bean Soup also received rave reviews. And who wouldn’t love an Apple Crumb Crepe? Chef Kwiatkowski had another favorite, the Michigan Smoked Turkey Reuben: “It’s killer!”
For Michelle Keller, Complex Dining Services Manager at the facility, the event was a chance to show students how much can be sourced from Michigan. Cultivate Michigan posters and window decals throughout the cafeteria helped to draw attention to the Michigan ingredients. “Students get really excited about all the variety!” Keller said. In her mind, the evening also pointed to an opportunity to tell the story of MSU’s local sourcing efforts on a more regular basis. Carla Iansiti, the Sustainability Officer for MSU’s Division of Residential and Hospitality Services, also sees a need to tell this story.
“Student are asking those questions now: where is my food coming from? What’s in my food?” Iansiti said, explaining that these days she hears questions about the source of food much more often than whether or not it’s organic. She has also found that many students enjoy seeing food from their home towns on the menu: “a lot of students really resonate with foods from their home communities.”
Iansiti together with Cheryl Berry, Marketing and Communications Manager for Culinary Services, were the primary organizers of the event. The two are presenting a session this July at the National Association of College and University Food Service conference in Anaheim, California to discuss how to plan and organize this kind of event at other schools.
“Educating students about food sourcing and benefits of supporting local farmers is an important part of our marketing program here at MSU,” said Berry. “Students are eager to make the connection about where their food comes from and it’s our duty to bring that educational component to them in the dining halls.”
“We wanted the food from Michigan to shine” said Kurt Kwiatkowski. And to the enthusiastic reviews of many diners, that’s exactly what they did. In the words of one undergrad, “This is such a great event. Everyone is so happy! I’ve eaten so much!”
To view more photos from the event: