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Clarkson now offers local-only options

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POTSDAM — Students who want to know the origins of their meal from Clarkson University’s new Main Street Grill in the Cheel Campus Center won’t have too far to travel.

Every ingredient comes from a farm within 200 miles of campus: beef from Brasher Falls, goat cheese from Vermont, vegetables from Quebec. The grill opened at the start of this semester.

Kyle C. Mayette, Clarkson’s executive chef, has worked on campus for the last six years, and he has spent much of that time getting to know local farmers and what they have to offer. The challenge is to find places with great-tasting ingredients in large supply.

“If you get a carrot or potato from Quebec you can tell the difference immediately,” Mr. Mayette said.

Potsdam’s Carriage House Bakery provides Clarkson with 156 pieces of bread every day, mostly sandwich rolls.

“We love it, because we’re local, and we’re able to supply,” bakery manager Christopher T. Affre said.

The grill has an intentionally limited menu, offering only three meals. A burger “From the Pasture,” a chicken sandwich “From the Coop” and a vegetarian option “From the Field.”

The makeup of these dishes will change with the seasons. As the time for tomatoes and lettuce ends, students should expect to see them replaced with winter vegetables such as squash and mushrooms.

Creating a constantly changing menu will prove a welcome difficulty for Clarkson’s food service team, according to Mr. Mayette.

“It’s going to be challenging for us,” he said.

The other hurdle is balancing quality with costs. Students can use their meal plan for lunch at the Main Street Grill, the same as any other place on campus.

Local food can cost a lot more than mass-produced meals. For example, the grill’s chicken comes from either Millbrook or Ontario, and costs nearly three times as much as mass-produced meat from big companies such as Tyson.

Mr. Mayette said it is worth it to pay more for chicken that tastes better and is more ethically friendly.

“I don’t mind paying a little bit more for something I know has integrity,” he said.

One way the restaurant cuts costs, and reduces its environmental impact, is by serving everything on actual plates rather than Styrofoam dishes. Soon the university will roll out reusable plastic takeout containers, which students will be able to return when they have finished their meal.

The grill is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and already is serving about 150 students a day.

“It’s almost got too busy too fast, and we’re glad of that,” Mr. Mayette said.

Clarkson has been using local ingredients in its cooking for the last few years, but this is the first time the campus is offering 100 percent local meals.

The move toward sustainable, local campus food was driven by a sizeable and vocal minority of students, according to Mr. Mayette.

“It was kind of a natural progression,” he said.

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