Students digging J&W’s Wellness and Sustainability concentration

Is it any wonder that today’s most popular classes at Johnson & Wales University are those that comprise the “Wellness and Sustainability” concentration within the school’s Culinary Arts Food Service Management Program?

During a recent September morning, 40 students loaded onto a bus headed to Schartner Farms in Exeter.  After being warmly greeted by the farm’s owners, members of the class headed into the fields with baskets in hand to dig.   They later had the opportunity to cook lunch using the fresh ingredients they had collected, including sweet potatoes, tomatoes, parsnips, peppers of all kinds, and much more.

Class trips to some of the 1,200 farms in Rhode Island and to the vibrant fishing port in Galilee, as well as in-class presentations from the state’s most successful chefs and restaurant owners, are all great opportunities for students to tap into a food service phenomena that is sweeping the country and the very reason Johnson & Wales University’s program is so successful.

Make no mistake, the idea of wellness and sustainability in the food industry is no passing trend.  Just ask Chef William Idell, one of three chairs of the school’s Culinary Arts program.  Idell teaches an 11-week course, “Sustainability in the Culinary Kitchen,” which provides students with a close-up look at today’s food service industry and the forces now driving the wellness and sustainability movement.

“Chefs are making stronger connections with the people they are buying their food from,” said Idell, who has been teaching at Johnson & Wales for eight years.

Keeping track of accounting and budgeting also plays a vital role in running a farm to table business.

“Knowing where your food comes from also means understanding how much that food will cost and whether or not it’s within budget.  Some people believe locally sourced food is more expensive than non-local, but that’s not always the case,” said Idell.  “Actually, seasonal food items at farmers’ markets are very competitively priced.  A good knowledge of food production and budgeting can go a long way.”

Idell notes the seemingly ironic twist, that while the food service industry, like so many others has become high tech, the most successful of those operating within it have also gravitated toward a “high touch” approach.  It is a breakthrough for the industry and a wonderful benefit for the consumer. 

“Across the country, independent, locally owned restaurants, as well as chains, schools, and university dining services are being run by people who want to know who is producing their food.  It’s great.”

Idell describes his program’s curriculum as constantly evolving. Classes include: “Sustainability in the Culinary Kitchen;” “Plant-Based Cuisine;” “Farm to Table Deserts;” and “Conscience Cuisine.”  The program began in 2012 with only 17 students.  Today, the concentration is at capacity, with two sections of 20 students each. Students are learning from industry experts about budgeting, ethical issues, securing food sources and the business aspect of the wellness and sustainability movement. 

“The overriding theme is sharing with our students -- the future chefs of the world --  the importance of understanding local, seasonal and sustainable cuisine,” said Idell.
The wellness and sustainability movement is destined to continue.  It is a hit with consumers and is proving to be good business.
“Restaurants that incorporate this movement into their marketing are doing extremely well,” said Idell. “There is a strong sense of community around it.”

Idell will continue to deliver the all important lesson to his students. “Get to know your farmer.”

Chef Bill Idell will be the guest chef on NBC10's Cooking with Class with Chef Frank Terranova December 1-5.  He will be presenting a week of recipes as part of the "Changing the Way America Eats" effort that will feature local, fresh, and sustainable Rhode Island ingredients.  To view these future segments, please visit: The segments will air during the noon newscast on NBC10.