By Peggy Briggs, New England Farm & Sea to Campus Network | Communications & Outreach Working Group Chair

Posted April 18, 2017


Smith College Chefs Participate in Training on Plant-Focused Meals

Smith Dining Staff Try Out New Meat-Free Recipes

Photo Caption: Smith College chefs prepare plant-forward recipes. Photo courtesy Smith College.

Joe Bacis, a veteran chef and self-proclaimed “meat-and-potatoes guy” sautés leeks, onions, carrots and garlic as a base for a meat-free Bean and Leek Cassoulet he’s preparing for the evening dining service at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. At the adjacent kitchen workstation, Tim Zima, chef of the vegan and vegetarian dining house on campus, drizzles the finishing icing onto his batch of warm and crumbly vegan raspberry bars.

Both of these Smith College chefs, each on different points of the learning curve for preparing plant-based meals, recently participated with colleagues in a two-day training session conducted by the Humane Society of the United States. The initiative, called Forward Food, gives food service professionals in schools and hospitals a primer on the health benefits of a plant-based diet and the hands-on skills to prepare meals with vegetable proteins as the focus.

Photo Caption: The Smith College Dining Staff with Forward Food Chef Wanda White and Katie Scott. Photo courtesy Smith College.

“The old thinking was that meat is at the center of the plate,” says Wanda White, the Forward Food chef leading the training session. “Now we are trying to let people know we are not taking away their meat, but we are actually here to add something to their repertoire.”  

Along with Forward Food's New England food and nutrition specialist, Katie Scott, White trains chefs at colleges and other institutions in the area to reframe the thinking surrounding plant-based meal planning and execution. Shifting the mindset from a focus on animal proteins to plant alternatives can be daunting for some chefs, so White works to debunk misconceptions about plant-based cooking by demonstrating simple techniques that deliver impactful and sometimes surprising results.

“The whole plant-forward movement is about using different language than vegan or vegetarian,” says White. “If the food is prepared well and is tasty, it has nothing to with whether it’s meat or not.”

Andy Cox, the director of dining at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., describes the shift toward the utilization of plant proteins as an integral part of a bigger picture: reducing meat consumption in order to improve overall sustainability.

“Part of the reduction in meat on campus is for the sole purpose of buying better meat,” said Cox. “Buying less meat means we can purchase more sustainable, local, additive-free meats and we are going to eat less of it.”

Partnering with the Forward Food training team helps chefs gain confidence by trying plant-based recipes before putting them on the menu. “It gives them a chance to work together, ask questions and experiment,” said Cox.  

Over the course of the two-day program, Chef Joe Bacis overcame his initial skepticism and came to appreciate the benefits of the new techniques he learned. “I was really surprised by the food,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little scary because you’re not sure how it’s supposed to come out but you taste it along the way and then you put it out and get positive feedback from the students.”

Photo Caption: Try the Recipe for Pita Pockets with Raw Vegetables (p. 29) pictured here.

The Forward Food chef training program is designed to inspire and engage culinary teams by developing technical skills and stretching their culinary thinking beyond their normal comfort zone.

“When you engage a staff member that is not normally cooking with these ingredients, there’s a huge learning curve”, said Patricia Hentz, Associate Dining Director. “I can see from this session they are already thinking deeper about it.”

At no cost to the institution other than that of the food, Forward Food led the Smith culinary team to produce a variety of main courses and desserts made with plant proteins, from Aquafaba Meringue cookies to Garbanzo Bean sliders.

“What makes my world is when they say they had fun, that it was easy, and that they thought it was more complicated,” says White. “When you hear them say, ‘I never thought I would be sitting down to a meal like this,’ you know you’ve accomplished your mission.”


Tips to Increase Plant-Protein Consumption From Andy Cox, Smith College Dining Director

1. Offer customizable meal options 

Rather that pre-portioned amounts of meat on the plate, offer design build-your-own grain bowls, noodle bowls or burritos and have the meat as the final ingredient to add. Amp up the vegetable quotient by making meat a smaller component of the dish.

2. Try international cuisines not dependent on center of the plate animal proteins

Integrate cuisines from around the globe with plant-based recipes from Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.

3. Make incremental change  

Creatively cut meat proteins by changing the balance of meat to vegetable ratio in traditional recipes. Smith Dining offers blended burgers that are 30% mushrooms combined with high-quality pasture-raised beef.


How does your vegan menu stack up against other colleges and universities? Get your assessment from the peta2 Vegan report card. Smith College scored a 100% student satisfaction score!

Download the Culinary Institute of America’s Menus of Change Toolkit: Protein Plays: Foodservice Strategies for Our Future.

Need some inspiration? Tap into the Forward Food recipes for innovative plant-based recipes for your dining halls.

Just getting started on using plant-based proteins on your dining menus? Check out this Forward Food Tool Kit for University professionals to help with menu planning, budgeting and promoting your efforts with social media and press.

Connect with the Farm & Sea to Campus Network. Andy Cox, Director of Dining at Smith College and F&SC Steering Committee member is available to answer your questions. Contact Andy >