Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Enviro Ithaca, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
Why I shop downtown — Marty
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Downtown Ithaca is now home to its first farm-to-bistro restaurant and educational facility with the opening of Coltivare on Saturday. The restaurant, affiliated with Tompkins Cortland Community College, offers a unique dining experience to its customers while also serving as a culinary school for TC3’s students.
Marketing coordinator for Coltivare Annie Quach said Coltivare’s mission differentiates from most restaurants because of the purpose it serves. As a part of TC3, Coltivare not only serves a dining experience, but also uses classrooms in the building to offer a hands-on experience to students pursuing a degree in wine marketing, culinary arts, hotel restaurant management, environmental studies, sustainable farming and food systems and entrepreneurship.
While the concept had been in the works for several years, Quach said the grants for funding were only received three years ago and that construction began this past year. Coltivare was granted $2.3 million from the state, and later received a $2 million cash gift, which made the TC3 commitment to the Farm and Bistro program final.
“I think that we’re different just because of what we are. We’re a culinary center —we’re not just a restaurant and we’re not just a bar — we’re an educational facility and a special events space,” Quach said. “We differentiate ourselves because our mission is a little different, in that we’re here to educate as well as run a business.”
Coltivare also differs from other restaurants because of the ingredients and items found in the menu.
While the program focuses on teaching students how to prepare the food, they are also heavily focused on making sure all the food comes from local sources, allowing students to be a part of the food process from the farm to the fork.
Quach said the team at Coltivare tries to find all their menu items within a 300-mile radius. In addition to TC3’s own agricultural education program’s farm, the restaurant also sources from local farms such as The Piggery, Kilcoyne Farms, Lively Run Dairy andNorthland Sheep Dairy.
On top of sourcing local produce and goods, an integral part of Coltivare’s mission is to operate as sustainably as possible, Quach says. Part of this mission includes a new waste management program, the first of its kind in the United States, called the IMC Waste Station.
By disposing of all food scraps, the system removes 80 percent of all liquid and reduces to a grain-like compostable form, which is then returned to the TC3 farm.
Denis Boucher, director of the Culinary Center at Coltivare, discussed the differences between Coltivare and other culinary student-run restaurants.
“We have a free standing restaurant very similar to [other culinary schools but] we’re very different in that we’re operating this restaurant kind of independent of the school,” he said. “We won’t be dependent upon the school schedule. This restaurant will be open no matter what. When the students are ready for certain areas they will be plugged in along with professionals in the industry.”
Boucher says Coltivare offers a unique learning experience because it allows for direct contact with a professional kitchen. This way, students understand the flow of the workplace before graduating and so that they “get a taste of the ‘wolves’ before they go out into the industry.”
In order for Coltivare to be a successful place of business and education, Boucher stressed the need to bridge the gap of communication between operations and education in typical culinary educational restaurants. “We are here for education, but if we don’t have the restaurant then we don’t have the education. Everybody has to understand from the very beginning that we’re all in this together – we’re all a team.”
The menu will include a variety of dishes prepared in different forms such as sautees, braises, and broils so that students will have a well-rounded knowledge and experience in the kitchen with such. “We always have to realize our menu isn’t just a menu, it’s a menu that’s designed for education yet still be appropriate for the market we’re trying to draw.”