By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Chef Kyle Mayette serves student Jenna L. Boss, class of 2015.

Chef Kyle Mayette serves student Jenna L. Boss, class of 2015.

Little did they know, when the students of Clarkson University pushed to have a more sustainable campus, they’d be learning to love goat cheese.

Even Executive Chef Kyle Mayette admits goat cheese is an acquired taste and not his favorite. But it is a vital component of a delectable chicken sandwich, made with pickled onions and garlic, known as “From the Coop,” which Mayette devised for service at the student union.

“It’s a great sandwich because of the contrast of the sweet and sour and the bitterness of the goat cheese,” he said.

At first the kids didn’t know what to make of it, but now they like it.

“From the Coop,” “From the Pasture,” and “From the Field” are the three sandwiches currently starring on the menu at Clarkson’s Main Street Grill in the Cheel Campus Center.

They’re special not just because they were crafted by Mayette from artisan cheeses, grass-fed meat and fresh vegetables, but because they represent a victory in a major effort at Clarkson to support the local economy and reduce carbon emissions associated with food shipping.

Everything in each sandwich at the grill, indeed even in the side dishes, comes from within 200 miles of Clarkson.

“From the Coop” is made with locally raised free-range chickens from Wellington Farms in Ontario, topped with goat cheese from Vermont Creamery from Websterville, Vt., and stacked on a bun from the Potsdam Food Co-op’s Carriage House Bakery near the university of 3,000 undergrads and grads, also located in Potsdam. The house-pickled red onions, mixed greens and tomatoes are locally produced as well.

Mayette decided to take the grill to this new height of locavorism in response to increasing interest from students and the university in creating a durable, sustainable food system.

Like many student cafeterias across the country, Clarkson’s food service was already incorporating many local ingredients across the university’s food facilities. Mayette decided that making one campus food stop “all local” would boost the profile of local foods and help stabilize the supply stream. It would showcase for farmers and students that local eating was scalable and delicious.

“We get a lot of push from the students about our carbon footprint and where the food comes from,” he said.

The grill shows them that meals can be sourced locally, eaten seasonally and don’t have to include chicken nuggets, though those are still served at another food kiosk at the cafeteria, Mayette said, explaining that for all their growing foodie-ness, the students would still rise up in protest if he nixed the nuggets.

The chef, who’s been a Clarkson for six years, reports that securing a steady stream of fresh and local produce, meats and dairy, is both challenging and rewarding. He admits that he’s a sucker for a great local tomato and finding one makes his day.

“Having a beautiful tomato in season, that’s a great thing. For culinary chefs, we’re like kids in a candy store at a farm,” he said.

That’s the reward. The challenge has been persuading regional producers to dive in and plant certain foods to serve an emerging market. Producers are understandably reluctant to plant a big field of carrots or onions, without assurances that they can sell them, he said. Converting land from pasture to produce takes time and money and farmers want to know their efforts will pay off.

Lately, though, the farmers in the Adirondack region, along New York’s northern border with Canada, are realizing that the local food movement isn’t going away, Mayette said. As schools and restaurants add to their local offerings, the farmers are finding multiple buyers.

To service the Main Street Grill, the university relies on ongoing contracts with the Potsdam bakers, produce grocers, artisan cheese makers and several farmers, including grass-fed beef rancher Patrick Kilcoyne.

“I’m looking forward to working with Clarkson in the future to continue to evolve our operation and provide them with quality, locally grown and processed beef, and I thank them for their support of small family farms and their dedication to sustainability and the local economy,” Kilcoyne said in a statement endorsing the Clarkson program.

The university does appear dedicated to the cause. Meals are served on plates instead of throwaway containers. Clarkson also has signed up with a new service that provides reusable to-go containers. Students deposit the containers in machines on campus, and they’re washed and reused in the cafeterias.

So while the local food keeps “food miles” lower, the plates and reusables reduce waste, a double-win for the environment.

Mayette, in fact, says he often hears people laud the new all-local grill as a triple win — for the students, the local producers and the environment.

“It’s been a big push up in Northern New York, we want to keep the money in Northern New York,” he said, while prepping for the expected 150 to 200 students who eat at the Main Street Grill every day.

“There’s not a lot of manufacturing jobs or big money, so we need to do the best we can to support everybody.”

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