It’s not every school dining program that can secure a deal to get high-quality, locally raised, grass-fed beef for its kitchen, but that’s what the Louisville Collegiate School (LCS) has been able to effect. And better yet, the meat isn’t just a special occasion item but a menu regular.
In fact, LCS sources the beef used in just about every dish calling for it—up to 250 pounds worth per month, mostly in ground form—from nearby Foxhollow Farm, a 1,300-acre spread located about 15 miles northeast of Louisville that raises grass-fed beef exclusively.
“[Foxhollow co-founder/owner] Maggie Keith and I knew each other in the community and I just started using her product” about a decade ago, recalls Rachel Reigelman, executive chef and foodservice director at LCS for management company Sage Dining Services.
“It was at a point where I was really looking to step up our local game,” Reigelman adds. “Foxhollow was kind of the first [local supplier], kind of the kickoff” of the local sourcing program at LCS, she explains.
The Foxhollow Farm arrangement was soon followed by a deal with a Louisville-based distributor Creation Gardens that has supply relationships with multiple small local growers as well as larger local specialty product concerns like Marksbury Farm, which raises and processes sustainably produced protein products and supplies LCS’s deli meats and some of its pork needs.
Local sourcing represents a major commitment on the part of the school to the local economy because it comes at a cost. For example, the beef purchased from Foxhollow costs about twice as much as it would from a more mainstream supplier, Reigelman admits, but the tradeoff in product quality and healthfulness makes it worth the extra cost. Plus, Foxhollow gives back to the school by serving as a corporate partner and sponsor.
In all, Sage at LCS today secures about a fifth of its product from local sources.
The school enrolls some 630 students from junior kindergarten through the 12th grade, which means the dining program has to meet the tastes and preferences of children from pre-school age through those in their later teens.
That has been made much easier this year by the fact that dining has returned to the LCS campus after operating from offsite for the past year as the kitchen, servery and dining areas were all extensively renovated and more storage space and modern production equipment added.
“We now have an area set up on the serving line where I can actually do cooking in front of the kids,” Reigelman says. “We didn’t have those things before.”
Previously, the cafeteria servery consisted of a “small hot food line” and some self-service bars set in the middle of the dining room “so we were constantly fighting kids to get through to replenish things,” Reigelman recalls. They’re all in the servery now, making replenishment and tidying much easier.
The newly renovated servery consists primarily of four branded food stations. Main Ingredient consists of two identical hot lines that serve a rotation of choices ranging from burgers and chili using Foxhollow-sourced ground beef to pizza, roast turkey, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches and ratatouille over rigatoni noodles.
In the middle of the two lines is where Reigelman can set up and make dishes in front of her young customers. Among the items she has produced so far are sushi and five-spice beef lettuce wraps.
“They are usually simple things students can add to their plates just to give them a taste,” she says.
Other stations include Mangia Mangia, which menus pasta that usually comes with a choice of sauces and which students are encouraged to augment with proteins and vegetable sides from other stations. The Classic Cuts deli offers not only sandwiches but also wet salads and hummus while the Improvisations salad station features a choice of composed salads like garden, wheat berry avocado, Greek, cucumber radish and balsamic lentil/quinoa. There is also a soup station (Stock Exchange) offering two housemade soup choices each day and a dessert station (Baltimore Baking Co.).
To accommodate the wide age range, the program has separate lunch periods. The youngest children (grades JK-1) are seated with a family-style approach and served a menu with a few options from the day’s hot line choices. These can be fairly sophisticated. For example, on the day FM spoke with Reigelman the menu consisted of chicken enchilada casserole, refried beans, confetti rice and fajita-style eggplant, though there is also always the option of a premade sandwich like a PB&J as an alternative for those who don’t want the day’s main choices.
The options increase for grades 2-5 as they gradually gain access to all of the self-service bars as their school year goes on and they get acclimated to cafeteria procedures. Students from grade 6 on have a free run of the multiple food stations and make their own selections.
As LCS is not in the National School Lunch Program, it is free to design its menus without regard to federal restrictions. All the choices are logged on Sage’s allergen filter app that allows students (and, critically, their parents) to see what potential food allergens a dish may contain.