For the Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock, an additional kitchen means more educational opportunities, an increased capacity to prepare its campus-grown produce and fewer trips to the grocery store throughout the year.
The newly constructed Duchossois Food Systems Lab and Kitchen, made possible by donations from the Duchossois family, was debuted April 29 at a private event and ribbon cutting for the donors. The kitchen area will serve primarily as a preparation space for produce harvested from the university’s farm, but most importantly, the new area will allow the university to expand its programs to students and the public and will help Loyola have a more complete, whole-circle food system.
“The biggest thing it does for us is it definitely expands our space to have a separate processing area to take advantage of the products while they’re fresh,” said executive chef Scott Commings, a recent participant in the FOX reality TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.” “The other thing it does is that it brings on the educational aspect so that people can actually see a cycle of food in process. It’s all done right here so that we can really manage every aspect of the food and that’s a huge deal.”
For the whole-circle food system, Commings said everything grown on the property will be washed and processed in the new kitchen, prepared in the regular food service kitchens and vegetable scraps and waste are composted to help rebuild garden soils. He said the goal is to produce about 80 percent of what the university is currently buying to reduce costs and concentrate on local produce. He said the “home-grown” foods are higher quality, more nutrient-rich and organic. In the Duchossois Food Systems Lab and Kitchen, Commings said produce can be utilized fresh or will be preserved through techniques like blanching, freezing and canning. He said the complete food system will give students the opportunity to learn how to grow, harvest, process, cook and preserve food.
“The second part is to be able to reach out to the community and build up their interest in food and local food,” Commings said. “People can come in here and utilize the space to learn different cooking techniques, how to harvest, bring in and utilize those vegetables, how to build soups and sauces, and learn different cooking techniques that are useful in every home.”
Commings said several groups and tours will be able to take advantage of the kitchen and gardens, including environmental science classes, culinary students, and retreat groups and corporate groups participating in team-building activities and interactive culinary experiences.
Covering just a few acres, the gardens could potentially yield 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of produce this year.
“I am going to try and grow as many vegetables, for use in the kitchen here, as possible,” said farm operations manager Emily Zack. “We’re hoping to grow enough vegetables, also, for year-round use. This is the most tomatoes I’ve ever grown in one area, so hopefully all the sauce for the year will come out of here.”
Zack said volunteers are always welcome to help with garden maintenance.
The Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus is at 2710 S. Country Club Road. For information, call 815-338-1032.