cafe bon appétit at iaia
Beneath the soaring mural of a flying frito pie, the students of IAIA – the Institute of American Indian Arts – dig into a lunch of beef pho soup with diced roasted poblano peppers, lime wedges and basil chifonnade , crab cakes with side roasted pepper and mango relish, lemon grass rice pilaf with ginger and fennel, thin crisp scallion, quinoa cakes and fresh salad. It’s a menu designed for the primarily Native American students by a french speaking Swiss native chef, Guido Lambelet, administered by a California-based food-service management company that places a premium on cooking environmentally sourced, humanely raised ingredients from scratch. At first glance, there’s a lot here that doesn’t quite seem “local”. And yet there’s a fascinating mix of origins, cultures and traditions that coalesces under one roof with the shared values of nutritious and delicious localist food.
For Chef Guido Lambelet, the path to the IAIA Cafe began by cooking with his parents, who offered room and board to students in his hometown of Neuchatel, Switzerland. Upon arriving in the US in 1979, Lambelet worked in restaurants from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, until he began working with Bon Appétit Management Company in the early 1990’s. With Bon Appétit, he found a company with a kindred spirit, where 25 years later, he is still actively engaged in the mission of “food service for a sustainable future”.
The word “cafeteria” – be it academic or corporate, rarely brings mouth watering imagery to mind. The cafeterias I remember from junior high, highschool, college, were echoey halls drenched with the smell of fried foods and plates heaped high with mystery mounds of meat and gravy goo. If there was a salad bar, it was mostly an iceberg lettuce, cottage cheese affair. Enter Bon Appétit – originally a San Francisco-based catering company that made what was in the early ‘90’s a cutting edge committment to socially responsible food services.
Bon Appétit distinguished themselves from the beginning by creating a corporate culture that values sustainability – from a “low carbon diet” to humane sourcing to famer worker’s rights – not merely through messaging and mission statements, but by creating quantifiable criteria to establish and meet those objectives. Seafood must follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program sustainability guidelines for commercial buyers, eggs must be certified humane, all poultry and beef must be antibiotic free, with preference given to ranches whose animal welfare practices are third-party verified. And there is a target goal that 25% of produce be sourced within 150 miles.
For Lambelet working with Squash Blossom is one of the key elements making it possible to meet the target goals for local sourcing by providing one-stop-shopping for multiple farms in Northern New Mexico. “Chef Guido has been one of the top buyers through Squash Blossom for years running,” agrees Nina Yozell-Epstein, founder of the Santa Fe based local produce distribution service. “Because of the values of Bon Appetit, he has the green light to source local ingredients, and he takes advantage of that. He will buy pretty much anything that is in season, maybe not always knowing what his plans are for each veggie until it gets to his kitchen door. I think he likes the creative challenge of making something new based on what we have in season.”
The bottom line for Bon Appétit, as realized successfully at IAIA, and more broadly, nationally, is that values-based food service pays off. The company operates over 500 cafes in 32 states. Princeton Review has named Bon Appétit the “No. 1 College Food Service in the Country” for several years running.
And within that environment, their chefs flourish, with the autonomy to create seasonally based menus customized to their diners. Guido takes particular pride in his role in the lives of students at IAIA. When they arrive as freshman, some students are matriculating from low income reservations where subsistence on commodity foods can be the norm. The school diet, with its emphasis on local, fresh produce can take some getting used to. But the chef says he can clearly see the difference in a student’s journey from freshman to seniors – looking and feeling healthier, heading directly to the salad bar after a spring break at home.
Students like recent graduate George Alexander echoed that experience. “I was kinda surprised to see the quality of the food that Bon Appetit provided – after my highschool cafeteria I was expecting hamburgers, fries and junk food – and that threw me in for a loop, all of the fresh options.” For the students, college is a transformative space, where young adults are on their own for the first time, carrying with them the traditions they grew up with, and exposed to new and unfamiliar ideas. It’s a time to experiment and explore, from literary theory to creative disciplines, and yes, even lunch. Alexander says that the Guido’s menus at Bon Appétit changed his perspectives on food; that he had already been a relatively healthy eater, “but eating at Bon Appétit opened up my eyes to more healthy options that were available – and also made me more aware of my carbon footprint to the earth – I’m more conscious about that now.”
What really struck home for me as I enjoyed crab cakes with side roasted pepper and mango relish and washed it down with cucumber agua fresca was just how tasty the food that Lambelet and his executive chef Josh Anglin serve at the IAIA cafe. Values-based food management is a foundation, but the real proof is in the quality and creativity of the food. Which makes it no surprise that each summer, Lambelet and his team double up their efforts, providing meals not only IAIA, but to the Santa Fe Opera, with the calibre of presentation and flavor that matches the world-class performances.
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