By Leslie Engel — Student, Culinary Arts ‘18

When you’re learning how to perfect your medium dice, you’re probably not contemplating how that carrot ended up on your cutting board. But as future chefs, we should occasionally step away from the kitchen and consider the broader implications of our work. How do our everyday decisions impact our environment, our communities and even the world?

Sustainability Club

ICE students began contemplating these weighty topics at the inaugural meeting of the Sustainability Club on Saturday, January 20. Our first stop was the Union Square Greenmarket, New York City’s bastion of locally grown, seasonal produce. The day kicked off with Chef Bill Telepan, ICE’s Director of Sustainability, leading us on a tour of the market and introducing us to some of his favorite farmers. While peas and asparagus are still several months away, we learned that there is life at the greenmarket in the dead of winter.

First we chatted with Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, a farm located in Roscoe, New York that supplies produce to top-tier restaurants like Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. While Rick’s coveted tristar strawberries are a pipe dream for chefs at this time of year, there was a wide selection of colorful fingerling potatoes and adorable bite-size carrots. We were intrigued by these carrots, which we learned had an unusually high level of “degrees Brix,” a measurement of sugar content reflecting quality. It turns out that fruits and vegetables with high Brix readings not only taste better, they also have a higher nutrition content compared to their supermarket cousins. Chef Telepan also pointed out that because local produce arrives soon after harvest, it stays fresh longer — a plus for any chef or restaurant owner.

Our next stop was Flying Pigs Farm, which specializes in rare-breed heritage pigs raised on protected land in upstate New York. We learned about the distinct difference in fat content between conventionally raised pigs and those from a producer like Flying Pigs Farm. While America’s fat phobia has led to a leaner pig and consequently, a dry pork chop, fat is where the real flavor lies. Quoting one of his farmer friends, Chef Telepan said we should think of the fat as the meat and the meat as the vegetable —in other words, consider fat an essential element of any dish.

Sustainability Club at Oceana

Leslie (right) and a fellow culinary student at Oceana

Sustainability Club

Sustainability Club

With that nugget of wisdom — and a bag of Rick’s carrots — we took the subway uptown to Chef Telepan’s home base at Oceana. Inside the kitchen, we flipped on the lights and began cooking brunch: breakfast sausage with meat from Flying Pigs Farm, potato cakes, a mushroom frittata and oatmeal pancakes. Together, we sat down to brunch in the restaurant’s private wine room. While enjoying the fruits of our labor, we chatted about the delicate balance between what’s seasonally available and customer expectations, as well as the future activities of ICE’s Sustainability Club.

Ready to study culinary arts and sustainability alongside leading chefs like Bill Telepan? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

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