Food, glorious (local) food

Neale McDevitt

As Executive Chef, Residence Dining Halls, Oliver de Volpi understands a thing or two about taste buds. So when he raves about “some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted,” a person should take notice.

The objects of de Volpi’s affection were not grown in some exotic sun-drenched locale nestled on the equator. Rather they came from the Macdonald Campus Horticultural Research Centre, a mere 30 minutes away down Highway 20.

De Volpi has been singing the praises of Mac-grown produce for two years now, ever since the 2009 launch of the McGill Feeding McGill project, in which food from McGill’s West Island campus is used in the daily menus of dining halls and cafeterias across the University.

The project started out modestly enough, with McGill Food and Dining Services purchasing some $5,000 worth of fruits and vegetables from Mac in 2009. That number jumped to $15,000 last year and, with the new semester set to begin next week, de Volpi is hoping to boost the volume to $30,000 for the academic year.

“Last year we purchased 22,000 pounds of produce from Mac,” said de Volpi. “Our goal this year is to almost double that quantity and to serve the produce all over campus.

“This is absolutely fantastic produce,” he said, “both in terms of taste and nutritional value because it is so fresh.

“Sometimes I call [Plant Science technician] Mike [Bleho] in the morning to tell him what I need and he says ‘I’ll see what they are picking and I’ll bring it to you today or tomorrow.’ What could be better than that?”

The project has grown to the point where Mac is now the University’s biggest supply of fruit and vegetables from August through October. “Other schools with similar programs talk about their produce in terms of hundreds of pounds,” said de Volpi. “But here. We’re looking at 20,000 to 30,000 pounds.”

Planning for this year’s crops began in February when de Volpi and the chefs from McGill’s various units sat down to lay out exactly what they needed for the upcoming academic year. Bleho and his team planted more than four acres of produce tailored specifically for their internal clients.

And the project keeps growing. On top of the extra crops this year, Mac will also be supplying the University with fresh eggs for the first time. In the past, with no grading or sorting equipment, the eggs that were produced for research purposes at Mac were sold to a farm in Ontario – the same farm that acted as McGill’s egg supplier.

Thanks to money received from the McGill Sustainability Projects Fund, the proper sorting equipment was purchased so that Mac could use its eggs to help feed hungry McGillians. “The chefs here are thrilled,” said de Volpi. “How often do you get to work with eggs that are three days old? The only thing missing is for each egg to come stamped with the McGill logo.”