A “Fresh” Take on Food Innovation

Middle School club prepares three-course meal using local ingredients with Hutch Bar & Eatery.

This week, 11 Middle School students took a break from writing, calculating, and reading to spend their afternoon chopping, searing, and sautéing.

As members of the self-titled “Soupa Fresh Foodie” club, these students worked for four months to create their own “restaurant” in which they would serve a three-course, homemade meal for their families and friends. Their hard work paid off with the successful opening of Soupa Fresh Foodie Café in the Bryan Innovation Lab on Tuesday, January 24.

In addition to preparing a meal, one of the major goals of the club was to learn about entrepreneurship and the business of food service. Along with faculty advisers Cierra Gillard, Eric Latourelle, and Susan Welk and Director of the Bryan Innovation Lab Cary Jamieson, the students took a field trip to Hutch Bar & Eatery in October to learn how to run a professional kitchen, how to provide high quality customer service, and other methods for successfully owning a restaurant.

When they returned to school, the students used their newfound knowledge to decide on a menu, as well as sample and select hand-grown produce from the Bryan Lab's Ipsen Gardens to use in their final meal. They spent most of their following club meetings practicing and perfecting the recipes in order to prepare for the opening of their restaurant in January.

On the big day, the students took over the Bryan Lab kitchen with Hutch Executive Chef Craig Smith and practiced their plating and customer service skills with Hutch Co-Owner Jessica Bufford and Dining Room Manager Samaden Chheng before their families and friends arrived.

“I can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been working on for the past few months,” sixth-grader Mikal Banks said. “I really enjoyed cooking and helping to make different sauces [for the meal], and I definitely will try these recipes at home.”

Ms. Gillard noted that some of the students have experience with cooking and were excited to learn new skills, but others have never cooked in their lives.

“It was neat hearing the students share their knowledge with one another and show such a strong sense of support for the team,” she said. “And not only were they making and experimenting with food, but they were able to decide on a final product, which gave them a sense of ownership.”

The final menu included the following:

  • First course: Orchard salad with maple Dijon cider vinaigrette (butter crunch lettuce, spinach, kale, apples, white cheddar, figs, bacon)
  • Second course: Tuscan chicken roulade (pan seared chicken tenderloins stuffed with sautéed kale, mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella paired with handmade gluten-free gnocchi, roasted tomato sauce, parmesan, romano, and asiago cheeses)
  • Third course: Vanilla bean ice cream with candied fennel and orange
  • Beverage: Cucumber water

Mrs. Bufford is generously featuring the salad and chicken entrée on Hutch’s menu for the month of February. Hutch will also donate $1 from each of those items sold to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Virginia, which was chosen by the students.

“It’s important to my husband [Hutch co-owner Josh Bufford] and I that our restaurants are more than just places to eat,” she said. “We want them to be part of the community. This was a great opportunity for us to partner with Steward, and I hope the students will be thoughtful when they’re dining out and think about where their food is coming from and who prepared it.”

The launch of Soupa Fresh Foodie Café is a pilot project for the Bryan Innovation Lab’s food innovation program. Stay tuned for more details! Click here to view more photos from the event.





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