A kitchen range with 12 burners and two ovens is framed by four television monitors. A camera hangs from the ceiling ready to capture chopping, sauteing and stirring. Six stainless steel workstations equipped with hot plates and red stools surround the main work station.
A new teaching kitchen in Read Hall operated in partnership by IU Dining and Indiana University Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences could easily be mistaken for the set of “MasterChef” or “The Great British Bake Off.” But this space won’t be used for high-drama cooking challenges resulting in verbal assaults from Gordon Ramsey.
Instead, this new kitchen will provide a space for academic classes to hold cooking demonstrations, groups to host cooking events, and IU Dining to conduct training, tastings and recipe development.
The idea of a teaching kitchen has been floated for years, according to Carl Ipsen, professor of history and director of the IU Food Institute. Many College courses, including those in anthropology, geography and area studies, have cooking incorporated into the curriculum, and instructors have been eager for a designated spot to host demonstrations.
With the expansion of food-centric curriculum in the College and the establishment of the IU Food Institute, the growing demand for a teaching kitchen helped the idea become a reality. As classes start to use the space next semester, Ipsen hopes this resource will contribute further to the development of IU’s food studies program.
“Now that this test kitchen exists alongside the IU Campus Farm, we have the venues for a robust food studies program,” Ipsen said. “I’m hoping these spaces will allow IU to grow the certificate program to a bachelor’s degree in food studies.”
Ipsen said that partnering with IU Dining to operate this space seemed like a natural step; Rahul Shrivastav, executive director of IU Dining, jumped at the opportunity. The space in Read Hall will allow the IU Dining team to test recipes year-round. In the past, testing had to be done only during the summer, as kitchens are too busy during the school year. The new kitchen will also be key for training IU Dining staff.
“IU Dining has about 25,000 recipes in our system right now, so training is a crucial step for our cooks,” Shrivastav said. “Having the opportunity to train staff in a controlled environment instead of on the job will be huge.”
Photos by Eric Rudd, Indiana University
Both Ipsen and Shrivastav also see the potential for hosting a wide range of events in this space, including guest chefs, food studies seminars, cooking classes and demonstrations, and even IU staff retreats featuring cooking activities.
One of the first events happening in the space will be a small, private lunch hosted for food writer Laura Reiley during her upcoming visit to campus. Reiley is the restaurant critic for the Tampa Bay Times and the former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2017. Her visit to campus includes a public talk from 5 to 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Radio TV Building Room 251.
Ipsen said it’s important for the university to devote resources to food studies because food and food systems affect the world in more ways than the obvious. Issues like the obesity epidemic, labor issues and climate change are all tied to changing food systems.
“If you’re concerned about the environment, then what’s going on in the food world is a big chunk of that. The contribution to global warming from agriculture is frightening,” Ipsen said. “If you’re a curious diner, you should be dealing with these issues.”
For those cooking and serving food, understanding the historical and cultural context of how food is grown, cooked and served helps create a tastier and often healthier product.
“Food service trends are all historic. Farm to table, small plates, poke bowls, avocado – all of this stuff is just history repeating itself,” Shrivastav said. “There are more frauds in food than in almost any other field. If we don’t generate educated people to address these issues, the future of our food could be in danger.”