Chef Scott Pampuch has spent his career connecting eaters with food producers in as few steps as possible, and in his role as district executive chef for the University of Minnesota, he’s continuing that work on an institutional scale.
His passion for using fresh, local and sustainable foods is apparent at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum restaurant, where he’s made efforts to highlight food grown by the arboretum, as well as to University of Minnesota students.
A commitment to quality food, nutritious eating and responsible growing practices guides the success of Pampuch’s work. As a leader in the Twin Cities’ locavore movement and an award-wining chef, his accomplishments range from owner of the esteemed Corner Table restaurant in Minneapolis to founder of the Farm to Table Projects.
It all started about 15 years ago, with the Southeast Minnesota Food Network and the opportunity to explore locally-sourced, better quality items. “To be able to tell the story of where I came from really struck a chord,” says Pampuch, who grew up in southeast Minnesota. Caledonia, Houston, Rushford, Lewiston and other communities that were a part of his youth were vibrant food-producing areas full of possibilities for sustainable good eating and building chef-to-farmer relationships.
So it’s no surprise that Pampuch has a deep respect for the land and farmers. Buying fresh and local is a way to support the community and help area food producers to thrive.
Today, the influence of his culinary leadership extends to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, TCF Bank Stadium, catering operations, seven residence halls and a commissary program. He assists and coaches others working in dining services to deliver a great customer experience and make a positive impact. Day to day work typically involves large menu planning and catering events. “As the chef, he is tied to everything food,” says Alyssa Lundberg, University Dining Services sustainability coordinator. “The university is very fortunate to have him on board.”
Why the move from private-owned restaurants to a university setting? “The simple answer is food is food is food,” says Pampuch. His culinary and management skills carry over to a large academic arena. Whether a kitchen is big or small, the logistics are the same, according to Pampuch. “The scale and scope is something that I am not adverse to.”
Before joining the university, he planned weddings, farm table dinners and other large-scale food events.
In any setting, his passion for sustainability and quality food is contagious. For Pampuch, the university and the arboretum offer the perfect setting to build relationships and foster community. “Everyone is excited about food and sustainable food,” Pampuch says.
Indeed, the opportunity to participate in an ongoing discussion about long-range beneficial food practices is a driver for his positive impact. At the university, Pampuch makes “small steps to get to a bigger end.”
Sustainability and quality food evolve from several factors. Responsible sourcing is just one component of good eating. Whenever possible, Pampuch uses locally grown and produced foods. While Minnesota’s limited growing season can make local sourcing a challenge during the winter, summer and fall offer an abundance of fresh foods. “Local food is one piece of the puzzle,” Pampuch says.
For example, Pampuch made the most of apple season at the university by using apples grown at the arboretum’s orchard—a move that was both cost-effective for the university and beneficial to the arboretum. “Local products like apples in September cost less than the shipped commodity,” Pampuch says.
According to Pampuch, the arboretum’s AppleHouse also got some promotion when apples were served throughout the university “We used a lot of apples,” he says, including locally grown varieties, such as Honeycrisp, Braeburn and Cortland.
The St. Paul campus-based Cornercopia Student Organic Farm is another prime example. The student-driven program from the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture is flourishing. A group of 10 to 15 students and student program coordinator Courtney Tchida raise strawberries, micro greens, cucumbers, beans, potatoes and chickens. “You can grow a lot on 3.5 acres,” says Tchida.
The fruits of their labor go to catering services, the residence halls, the pop up market and the arboretum. Pampuch eagerly uses any crops he can get from the university system. “It’s a great partnership to have because when I have a lot of something, he can always use it,” Tchida says. “It’s an amazing partnership that allows us to keep growing.”
Micro greens found their way to the pop up lunch box, a new healthy food-inspired concession stand by the Weisman Art Museum. Cornercopia-raised chickens and tomatoes were transformed into a delightful summer entrée at the arboretum that Tchida still remembers. “After a chef’s had his fingers in it [our food] transforms into the magical elevated thing,” she says.
Visit arboretum.umn.edu/restaurant.aspx for details about the restaurant at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, including special events, including the Sunday Supper on March 15.