Drexel University Students and Longwood Gardens Tackle Food Sustainability and Innovation
One team’s goal was to punch their taste testers in the face with tomatoes. Another set out to make “fine-dining Spaghetti-o's.” Five teams of Drexel University students spent their penultimate week of “Garden to Table Cooking” (CULA T280) preparing dishes to present to a real-world partner of the University — Longwood Gardens. In the end, the Gardens’ restaurant manager, Ryan Bloome, liked what he tasted.
The elective class, taught by Food and Hospitality Management Professor and Program Director of Food Entrepreneurship and Innovation Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, through the College of Nursing and Health Professions, is an experiment in a partnership with Longwood Gardens through the Drexel Solutions Institute (DSI).
“DSI manages the relationships between external partners and the University and acts as a hub for partners to tap into University resources,” said DSI Corporate Relations Director Mandy Dollar. “The goal is to build collaborations that bring about inclusive, innovative and interdisciplinary solutions to Drexel’s partners while also providing students with invaluable hands-on learning opportunities.”
In this class, most of the students aren’t in Drexel’s Culinary Arts program. Business, engineering, arts and other majors took to the kitchen, too. Every week, students learned how to cook with different kinds of produce using what’s available rather than with a recipe, said Deutsch. That, plus a field trip to Longwood Gardens’ new Idea Garden, primed them to create a dish that could be served at Longwood Gardens’ fine dining restaurant 1906, The Café or Beer Garden. Students had to feature a produce item grown at Longwood and, ideally, Longwood Gardens would love the creations and adapt them for use.
“I said this to the Longwood folks when we were there, that if nothing bigger comes of this partnership, from my perspective in terms of experiential learning and bringing course content to life, it will still have been successful,” Deutsch said. “The ideal situation would be that students come up with menu ideas that inspire the Longwood team, who will now look to Drexel as a source for sustainable food innovation and a thought partner who can help enhance their operations through research, recruiting and experiential learning.”
Deutsch developed the course with Program Director and Assistant Clinical Professor Rosemary Trout, DHSc, and Assistant Clinical Professor Chef Chuck Ziccardi as a complement to Ziccardi’s urban gardening courses at Drexel. Senior Vice Provost for Academic Industry Partnerships Rajneesh Suri, PhD, had similar ideas brewing. When Suri visited Longwood Gardens, he saw a missing link between the restaurants and gardens. He thought about how the gardens could promote sustainability by providing a link between what’s on the menu and what’s in the ground. He would be more likely, he thought, to spend his money on food that came from the garden and included messaging about nutrition and sustainability.
“This led to a series of exploratory conversations between Drexel and Longwood Gardens,” Suri said. “The course came together in a beautiful way and also ties nicely into the University’s Innovation Engine initiative, whiche brings incredible support and resources in terms of our students and faculty using their creativity to get the engine moving forward.”
Enter Drexel students as the link and the gas in the engine.
Culinary arts and science students Zac Cohen and Gabe Marchiony teamed up with entrepreneurship and innovation major Ryan Monroe to make lamb tartare with tomatoes as their featured produce. There was tomato powder garnishing the dish, tomato water set with agar and tomato oil and chilis pickled with vinegar and tomato water. Marchiony said their goal was to “punch you in the face with tomato,” in a fine-dining way.
Another team, consisting of culinary arts and science student Gabe Thayer, biological sciences major Naomi Bass and information systems student Zach Kaczor, also featured tomatoes in their “fine dining Spaghetti-o's” dish, which had smooth tomato soup, fresh pasta and sage. Bass and Kaczor aren’t culinary students, so they were thrown into new depths with sustainability and cooking.
“I’m looking at produce in a much more sustainable way,” Kaczor said. “Now I know things like how to use carrot greens for pesto. I considered myself to be environmentally conscious, but this class really expanded that. Working with Longwood Gardens was such a cool project that I didn’t really expect.”
Computer science student Khanh Tran, biological scienes major Daiana Markarian and culinary arts and science major Keila Mata developed a tomato pupusa, while health services administration major Anna Hopkins, design & merchandising major Rachel Rafferty and culinary arts and science student Eugene Aponasko created an empanada with tomato, shallots, chilis and arugula. The parade of dishes finished with culinary arts and science major Charlise Williams, general studies student Joseph Browne and psychology major Ryan Pomales’ corn ice cream with caramel popcorn.
Dollar, along with Bloome, tasted each fiished dish. Bloome offered feedback throughout the presentations, suggesting to students how they could elevate or finetune their dishes and parsing how they fit within Longwood Gardens’ ethos.
“I think we’ll be turning to students for inspiration because they’re more connected to food trends,” Bloome said. “The death of a restaurant is getting sedentary with what you’re making. Something like the empanada could be good at our grill hut.”
More conversations are taking place with Longwood Gardens about how DSI and Drexel students can enhance their operations, including ways to improve the virtual experience and video content on the grounds in partnership with Pennoni Honors College, Suri said. For now, the “Garden to Table Cooking” class can serve as a model of how DSI can move forward and work with partners. Deutsch hopes to offer the class again.
“This is a great example of what can take place when academia and industry come together,” Dollar said.