Chef Jacob Kuehn (Pt II)

“While you’re at Cornell, there’s so many diverse options – Korean food, Mexican food, Ethiopian food. You’re on a meal plan; try new foods. Don’t just stick to your pizza. Venture out and try new foods.

There are so many cultures within blocks of each other. Be open to it. Just because it’s plant powered, or “vegan”, doesn’t mean it’s not good.”

To round out our series with Cornell Dining (see previous stories with Chef Jacob and Therese O’Connor), we’re returning to a conversation with Chef Jacob about Plant Powered Meals, a relatively new initiative at Hans Bethe House and Rose House on West Campus.

Chef Jacob started this conversation out by first providing some insight into the history of Plant Powered Meals:

“Plant Powered Meals started last spring (2015) at Rose House and Bethe. The pilot program involved one night, every four weeks, of a vegan/vegetarian menu. We then decided to try it for a full semester of one night per week of a vegan/vegetarian menu, and we’re in the middle of it now.

In terms of response, the staff is on board, and they’re excited about preparing plant based foods. The numbers have been okay; not off the charts great, but not terrible. It’s about an average night.

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To frame your perspective:

A slow night is about 300-350 guests, an average night is about 350-400, and a real busy night would be about 700.

I think students are appreciative of this; I haven’t heard any real negative comments. They either like it, or have accepted that it’s something every week.

And every year, the number of vegans increase. Last year it was about 8%, and now it’s 10%. It’s not a big difference, but it adds up. They’re doing it for health reasons or they care about the environment and sustainability. Personally, I like to cook vegetarian or vegan. I mean, I like a hamburger like anyone else, but I also really enjoy a plate of vegetables.”

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What has menu planning been like, and how has it evolved?

“We’re being creative. For example, the tofu bacon BLT wraps came out pretty good, and we’re thinking about doing something similar in the future.

We’ve come a long way with our vegan meatless meatballs – previously, they were beet and mushroom, and now, they include lentils, rice, tempeh, mushrooms, carrots, and onions. We’ve been changing it every week – slowly adding this or that – and we’re pretty happy with it now. Dining’s sustainability student committee asked for feedback last night, and people liked the texture and taste. There’s a lot of preferences, and people gave a lot of feedback. Originally, it tasted bitter, and it may have been because of the tempeh, so we roasted the tempeh to take out some of that bitterness. It took six weeks, and you can really see how much work goes into developing a recipe.

Generally, vegetables are more work. Compare the whole process of washing, preparing, cooking four things and folding the to make [meatless] meatballs, to pork chops that come prepackaged, seasoned, and ready to be thrown into the oven.

A lot more hard work is involved, but it shows the freshness of the ingredients – there are seeds, you have to peel them, etc. But the students know if it’s frozen or fresh, and they appreciate seeing fresh vegetables. It just takes more time.”

What is one thing you’d like to tell the audience?

“While you’re at Cornell, there’s so many diverse options – Korean food, Mexican food, Ethiopian food. You’re on a meal plan; try new foods. Don’t just stick to your pizza. Venture out and try new foods.

There are so many cultures within blocks of each other. Be open to it. Just because it’s plant powered, or “vegan”, doesn’t mean it’s not good. I don’t know why people don’t like the word “vegan”, but that’s why we went with “plant powered”. I think vegan food is delicious: it’s flavorful, vibrant, and it can be more delicious than meat items.

And give feedback. Talk to your chef and ask why they do things one way. It’s not that students don’t care, but it doesn’t come across that they care – they’re in and they’re out. And they’re all busy; it’s not just about the food, but sometimes, I don’t know if they even care about what they just ate.”

Connect with Sustainable Dining at Cornell here.

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