Leaving their kitchens behind for a few days, 10 FSD Chefs’ Council members immersed themselves in a culinary conference hosted by FoodService Director and the University of Michigan dining services last fall. Representing a wide swath of segments—K-12, C&U, B&I and healthcare—the chefs participated in hands-on kitchen workshops, field trips, trends presentations, networking events and dining experiences on and off campus. What they came away with was a wealth of ideas to put into action at their operations—and a renewed passion for their professions. Here are their top takeaways from the Chefs’ Council Summit.
1. Sourcing local on a large scale
Sourcing more local products is a goal of many noncommercial operators, but short growing seasons, supply chain logistics and other challenges make the goal difficult to achieve. Chefs’ Council Summit attendees learned about several initiatives that are making this happen. The University of Michigan, for example, works directly with a Dearborn, Mich., meat supplier, sources apple seconds from a local grower and contracts with a local dairy co-op of 100 farmers. Although coffee is not grown in Michigan, the college sources beans from a local roaster.
A visit to an urban farm in Detroit revealed that it’s possible to plant enough crops on a 4-acre abandoned city lot to create a supply chain to local restaurants. And a tour of Detroit’s Eastern Market, which houses incubator kitchens for food business startups, showcased products such as spiced roasted lentils that are ending up in local foodservice operations. “I found it to be entertaining, informative and outright inspiring to see what University of Michigan, Eastern Market and the urban farm are doing to support the local community,” said Rocky Dunnam, chef at Elizabeth Jane Bivins Culinary Center in Texas. “It’s refreshing to see an environmentally responsible approach take real-world application on such a large scale.”
2. Meeting the challenge of healthier menus
Matthew Cervay, system executive chef for Geisinger Health Systems, is on a mission to amplify health and wellness. Hearing from other chefs who are on the same mission made him realize that many are going through similar growing pains. “Most of my health system is located in central and eastern Pennsylvania, where meat and potatoes are the best menu sellers,” he said. “I often wondered over the past year if I am ahead of the curve with reducing traditional proteins, introducing grains and working different flavor profiles into vegetables not typically seen here. Sharing the struggles and successes with other operators has really reaffirmed in me that this is no longer a fad but the direction the culinary landscape is moving in America.”
Roy Sullivan, executive chef at University of California San Francisco Health, also shared a wellness-related takeaway. “It’s up to us chefs to do our part to contribute to healthy eating,” he said. “I appreciated how Michigan Dining incorporated fresh vegetables/greens as an option for breakfast. I am now in the process of adding sauteed greens to our breakfast menu.”
3. Cultivating talent
Frank Turchan, executive chef for Michigan Dining, discussed the importance of his role as a leader as well as a chef. This impressed Tracey MacRae, campus executive chef at University of Washington in Seattle, who said “his drive to support a higher culinary knowledge in his staff is not only admirable, but also sustainable. Nurturing and promoting talent from within supports culinary growth and produces prideful employees who come to work to make great food.”
Others were moved by Eastern Market’s incubator kitchens, which give budding entrepreneurs the space and support to create, produce and launch food products. “The fostering of someone’s dream and empowering people to succeed is life changing,” said Stephanie Dyehouse, assistant food service supervisor of culinary development for Cincinnati Public Schools.
4. The power of networking
When chefs get together, the camaraderie is contagious. “Meeting and interacting with the other chefs renewed my outlook on the foodservice business,” said Jeff Muldrow, executive chef at The Mather senior living facility. “So many different lines of business were represented—K-12, higher education, healthcare—a very amazing and talented group of people. I learned many things from the other chefs.”
Iraj Fernando, executive chef for Southern Foodservice Management, agreed: “Us chefs, we care for each other, help each other and share the same dreams.”