Cafe opens in nursing building, offering kitchen training and healthy menu

The Kitchen Cafe, which is run as part of an upper-division course through the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, serves the Downtown campus four days a week. (Domenico Nicosia/DD)

The Downtown campus now has a nonprofit cafe staffed by nutrition students that is open four days a week.

Management of Food Service Systems, or The Kitchen Cafe to customers, is an upper-division course in the nutrition program that is required before students can apply for their capstone internships.

“We are not really trying to make a profit here. We’re just trying to break even, trying to get the students a good experience,” said Kenneth Moody, instructional retail kitchen coordinator. “Any money we do make in the semester just goes right back into the program.”

During the spring semester the cafe was open in the Nursing and Health Innovation I building. It only accepted cash for breakfast and lunch. The cafe is open now from Tuesday to Friday, accepting cash and credit card. Breakfast and lunch hours, however, are short, lasting less than two hours, said Simin Levinson, a nutrition lecturer for the course.

“I think the kitchen facilities are great. They offer nutritious, healthful food that is delicious and at an incredibly reasonable price,” nutrition graduate student Lindsay Gnant said.

Exercise and wellness junior Neil Hultgren said he likes the food and has tried the cafe’s lunch a few times, but what he enjoys most is the fruit they give with breakfast and lunch.

“It’s kind of nice having a healthy alternative down here because otherwise I’ll find myself going somewhere and getting something a lot more fatty,” Hultgren said.

Social work and family and human development senior Tabitha Williams said she paid $6 for a salad special with minced chicken and bacon.

“I really liked it. It was modern. The food’s good. I tried to go in there a couple of weeks ago after class but they were closed, and that was at one o’clock,” Williams said. “So that was pretty inconvenient. They’re a little overpriced; welcome to downtown, I guess.”

The course, NTR 445, allows students to get experience working in a professional kitchen, applying nutrition principles in food service and operating a restaurant, Levinson said.

Originally, the course was taught on the Polytechnic campus, but it wasn’t a practical location for a kitchen or a lab, Levinson said. The program moved to the Downtown campus in July 2011. Levinson has been teaching the course for the past four semesters.

Before The Kitchen Cafe opened early in October, the nutrition students had a three-week preparatory class and had to pass an exam for a ServSafe Certification in “Food Safety and Sanitation.”

Dietetics senior Angie Postell said this is her first time working in a kitchen. She has taken on the roles of back house management and line cook in the production kitchen, cashier and other roles.

Most of all, she said she enjoyed being the manager in the cafe because she got to boss others around.

While it is a program course, the cafe is independent of ASU’s university-wide contract with Aramark’s food services. The students hand-prepare, cook and serve the meals under the supervision of Kenneth Moody, or Chef Kent for short.

“Working under the chef has been a nice privilege. He’s very educated and knows his stuff,” dietetics senior Eman McKee said.

The Kitchen Cafe buys food mainly from Sysco and Grayhawk Produce Inc., he said, but anytime something can be made from scratch, it is. Moody also said he tries to buy local, organic products when he can.

According to the Facilities Development and Management’s plan layout, the cafe eventually will have its own garden. The speculative budget with a purse of more than $15,000 and its continuous maintenance is still in the works.

The garden will grow fruits, vegetables and herbs, and it may have its own compost on the corner in front of the Nursing and Health Innovation I building, Moody said. He added that he hopes the work for the garden would begin during winter break.

Moody said they also hold catering events for faculty and staff at the Downtown campus. The students do the preparing and cooking of food platters or fruit displays, but never service the event.

“It’s a really interesting course,” McKee said. “I like the aspect of having the hands-on experience while working in the kitchen rather than just reading about how to run a kitchen; I think it’s nice to know with firsthand experience.”

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Correction: Oct. 25, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Simin Levinson as Kathleen Dixon, a former lecturer of NTR 445. The article incorrectly said Dixon, rather than Levinson, had taught the course for the past four semesters.