Greening the Culinary Arts

Kendall College embarked on its sustainability journey in 2005 with the opening of the Riverworks campus in Chicago’s Goose Island neighborhood. Environmental stewardship is a cornerstone of our mission to prepare and inspire students to become industry leaders and responsible global citizens. To that end, the School of Culinary Arts developed a robust sustainability curriculum and guiding principles that are integral to both our educational programs and operational practices. The curriculum addresses everything from composting, recycling, and energy-conservation programs to sourcing locally grown, organic ingredients.

In 2007, the school received the Green Award from the Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), created in 1996 to recognize and applaud exemplary efforts in ecology and environmentally sensitive hospitality operations. It was only the fifth such award presented by FCSI, and the first ever to a culinary-training program.

Kendall took its sustainability commitment to the foodservice industry in 2008 with a program specifically tailored to meet the needs of working professionals and educators. Launched with the release of an educational video featuring quick tips on how to make foodservice operations more eco-friendly, the program continues to spread its message through a broad range of speaking engagements at major industry conferences and partnerships with other industry leaders in sustainability. 

In February 2009, Kendall joined with the Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFÉ) to sponsor the CAFÉ/Kendall College Green Award. It is the first-ever national award to recognize secondary and postsecondary culinary-arts programs for their commitment to sustainability. 

When we talk to our students about sustainable cooking, it really encompasses a wide range of ideas, including food production, transportation, energy/water consumption, and waste disposal. Anything we can do in culinary schools to address one or more of those categories is critical. Because the foodservice industry uses a tremendous amount of resources, we also have an opportunity and responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment.

From a food perspective, we work with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to make the most sustainable seafood choices, we teach about where food comes from and how it is raised, and we emphasize seasonality when considering our menus. In our fine-dining restaurant and practical cooking lab, The Dining Room at Kendall College, which is open to the public, 85 percent of all food is locally sourced from small farms and farmers’ markets.

Some of that food comes from Kendall’s own garden, which was established in 2007 near the main entrance of our campus and is managed by City Farm, which turns fallow, vacant land in Chicago into productive farmland. The garden’s purpose is to grow produce for our three foodservice outlets and to teach students about locally grown produce and basic agriculture. Encompassing a half-acre, the garden yields 2,000 to 3,000 lbs. of produce annually. We grow a wide variety of crops, which are harvested by approximately 35 School of Culinary Arts students per quarter.

By harvesting our own garden, we also teach the benefits of urban agriculture, which include providing local produce at reasonable prices, creating jobs, providing education, helping to beautify and revitalize neighborhoods, and building community.

Our most important job is to help students develop a sustainability mindset. Sustainability is so much bigger than just buying locally or seasonally; it’s about a comprehensive behavioral change in the kitchen. Sustainability will continue to evolve, so our focus is on helping students cultivate the ability to analyze situations and find the best solutions. It’s not about telling them what to think; it’s about teaching them how to think.

Sustainability is good for business and the world. When we conserve energy and water, we save thousands of dollars each year and help the environment. When we reduce our waste stream by recycling and composting, we reduce waste-hauling costs as well as the rate at which we’re maxing out our landfills.

We tell our students that they can be catalysts to accomplish great things throughout their educations and beyond. A few small steps toward sustainability can make a huge difference. We encourage students to keep current on evolving issues by reading literature from credible sources and joining organizations like Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food. We also direct them toward industry resources such as the National Restaurant Association Conserve and the Food Service Technology Center.

At Kendall, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we also realize that, like everybody, we’re not perfect and we can and will do much more. 

Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, is vice president of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and the Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts.