Cooking From Scratch

School News
Originally Published in Tuesday News March 22, 2016

“We try to make as much from scratch as possible,” says Chef Brand Fibkins of Sage Dining. “This gives us much more control over what we serve and means fewer preservatives and extra ingredients.” As an example, Fibkins points out that they make all of their broths in house. While it would be easier and much faster to open a can or use cubed bouillon, Brand and his team start with antibiotic/hormone free meat and organic vegetables. These ingredients, as well as a few spices, are all that goes into the beef, vegetable, and chicken stocks that serve as the base of the homemade soups they serve each day. As another example, Brand notes that their chicken fingers are made with only four ingredients: fresh, hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken from Boulder Chicken; cage-free brown eggs, flour, and bread crumbs. The breading is made using day-old bread from the sandwich bar, which comes from Aspen Baking, a Colorado company that does not use any dyes or preservatives. 

This week’s menu includes rosemary pork chops, pesto pasta, vegetable yakisoba, chicken pot pie, quinoa-stuffed red peppers, and pasta primavera, to name just a few things. 

Fibkins and his team of three chefs, whose credentials include Le Cordon Bleu and Sweet Basil, place a tremendous amount of energy into controlling what goes into the food and where it comes from. Among the more than 500 students, faculty, and staff they serve each day, are individuals with food sensitivities ranging from life-threatening nut allergies to vegan and vegetarian diets. Also on the list are dietary restrictions that exclude gluten, lactose, specific seeds, and food dyes. Add the challenge of cooking for kids and adults ranging from 5-65 and you’ve got quite a tall order. “When you cook from scratch in your own kitchen, you know exactly what’s in the food. I can say confidently when something is nut-free or gluten free and safe for the kids,” notes Fibkins. 

On a typical day, lunch includes: 
  • Two hot entrees, one of which is vegetarian
  • One steamed, green vegetable
  • Two soups made from scratch, one vegetarian, one broth based
  • A deli bar with an assortment of meat and cheeses including house roasted turkey and roast beef
  • Bread from Aspen Baking Company that is free of dyes and preservatives
  • A salad bar with choices of composed salads and build you own options
  • Salad dressings made daily in house from scratch
  • Fresh organic fruit
  • Three fruit-infused waters
  • Hormone and antibiotic free milk from Meadow Gold Dairy
“The overarching goals are health, quality, and choice,” notes VMS CFO, Mark Fenstermacher. He’s partnered with Brand and Sage Dining over the past two years to build a healthy and fiscally responsible lunch program. “Nutrition is such a key component of the students’ well being and we want the dining program to be on par with the overall VMS experience.” They’ve worked hard to find suppliers like Tonali’s Meats that provides responsibly-sourced, quality ingredients within a reasonable budget. The suppliers do the legwork and find reliable, trustworthy farms as close to home as possible. “All of the meat is fresh, never frozen, and is raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Only the fish comes to us frozen because of the distance it needs to travel,” says Fibkins. Tonali’s meats in Denver provides Boulder Chicken as well as Niman Ranch pork and beef. The beef, including the hamburger, is all grass-fed. The bacon, as well as many of the meats served in the deli bar, are also nitrate-free. The majority of the fruits and vegetables are organic, depending on availability, and some of the herbs even come from the school’s greenhouse. 

“Responsible sourcing is important not only for the health of the kids, but also for the health of the planet,” says Chef Fibkins. “Ideally we want to buy ingredients that were grown and raised the same way that they were for hundreds of years before technology took over. Organic produce means that farmers are not putting chemicals into the earth and thus into the food and ultimately into our bodies. Buying meat and produce close to home supports local businesses and means less energy is used transporting them from source to table. In the end, a lot goes into making sure that as little as possible goes into the food we serve the children.”
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