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Chefs-in-training

Critical thinking, urban farming lead to locally focused menu at Broadmoor Bistro

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Above image credit: Senior Sarah Miller prepares the duck confit for Wednesday's opening night at Broadmoor Bistro. (photo by Caitlin Cress/The Hale Center for Journalism)

The Broadmoor Bistro serves a gourmet dinner on Wednesday nights. Four courses, selected by diners from a small, carefully constructed menu of locally sourced dishes, can be purchased for only $30. Menu items like duck liver, heirloom tomato gazpacho, crawfish and sweet potato tempura would not be out of place at any fine dining restaurant in Kansas City.

The biggest difference between Broadmoor and other restaurants in Kansas City lies in staffing.

The bistro is staffed entirely by Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley high school students, who are enrolled in either culinary or baking classes at Broadmoor Technical Center. The students apply to work in the restaurant and are only admitted after proving to the instructors that they’re up for the after-school commitment.

These high schoolers do everything: conceptualize the menu, prep the ingredients, cook the dishes from appetizer to dessert and serve as waitstaff, all while earning college credit.

Junior Jerry Kim rates his culinary class a “10” and calls it his favorite class. He says this while chopping bunches of parsley for that night’s service: a boring and time-consuming task. He doesn’t mind this though — he just likes being in the kitchen. He wants to be a professional chef after high school.

This goal is echoed throughout the kitchen: every student interviewed said they wanted to enter the culinary field. Some endeavor to own their own restaurants. Learning the craft at Broadmoor will give them a serious edge when it comes to careers and education after high school, senior Sarah Miller says.

“All we’ve got to say is ‘we’re from Broadmoor,’” she says, “and people are willing to take us in because they know how much we learn.”

Growing the menu

Breaking ground on an urban farm this April changed how the bistro functioned, said teacher, chef and former student of the program Justin Hoffman.

“With the addition of the farm, we really have started focusing on local, sustainable, organic and that farm-to-table feel,” he said.

This summer the students and teachers have harvested 700 pounds of potatoes and over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes. They’ve sampled varieties of microgreens and squash, some of which students had never heard of or tasted before. After harvesting their bounty, they did the most difficult task: planned a menu around the produce they had on hand.

“We don’t want to write a menu just to teach (a certain) dish,” Hoffman said. “We want students to say ‘This is what’s growing. What can we make with that?’”

Hoffman and co-teacher and chef Bob Brassard said this manner of menu-planning requires critical thinking skills.

“(The students) know we have cauliflower growing right now,” Hoffman said, “so we have a cauliflower tasting on the menu.”

Cooking to the harvest is crucial: It makes sure food doesn’t go to waste and that the menu can remain locally sourced. Hoffman said 85 percent of the produce served in the bistro is from Broadmoor’s half-acre farm.

Brassard said the abundant amount of summer produce, especially tomatoes, led to extra lessons.

“All of a sudden, we have too much fruit. So they learned how to make salsa and make sauce and roast tomatoes,” he said. Students also made peach jam to take advantage of a mass quantity of local peaches the program purchased.

Creating a food memory

Brassard has been in the food industry since the 1970s, when he attended the prestigious college of culinary arts at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. He was there at the same time as modern culinary idol Emeril Lagasse.

Over the past thirty-something years, he has interacted with countless chefs. He said they all have something in common: a food memory.

“If you talk to any chef, they’ll always tell you about something that profoundly changed their view about food,” he said. “That’s the type of education we want to provide to our students.”

He said that while students have to sit through lectures and PowerPoint presentations, they also spend a lot of time in the kitchen, where they have the chance to learn a wide variety of culinary skills in a hands-on way: brewing kombucha, canning specialty pickles, barista skills, recipe development and, now, farming.

“They actually have a food memory about the plant that they planted, and now they’re picking fruit from that plant,” he said. “That’s the full circle.”

Junior Ali Webster said that this method of teaching is effective.

“I planted almost all of those tomatoes out there,” she said. “It’s really cool to go back out there and … see so many. It’s a really cool experience to learn new things (about produce) and try new things.”

Katherine Kelly, executive director of urban agriculture nonprofit Cultivate Kansas City, helped facilitate Broadmoor’s urban farm. She said that working with produce that chefs grow themselves deepens their respect for the ingredients.

“When they spend time during a growing season prepping the soil, planting the seeds, taking care of the plants, harvesting, tasting in the field, tasting in the kitchen, it changes how they cook, and it changes their understanding of the food,” she said.

Broadmoor Bistro — located inside Broadmoor Technical Center at 6701 W 83rd Street, Overland Park, Kansas — is open Wednesday nights during the school year from 5:30–7:15. Reservations can be made and past and present menus can be viewed on its website.

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