6 febrero, 2023

 Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center grows food at rooftop


The garden on the rooftop of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center at Auburn University does more than provide food and adornments for guests of its signature restaurant, 1856 – Culinary ResidenceThe Laurel Hotel & Spa and Ariccia Cucina Italiana.

In fact, the 4,400-square-foot garden on the Walt and Ginger Woltosz Rooftop Terrace, named through a generous gift from the couple, is a collaborative work space for the College of Human Sciences’ Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management and the College of Agriculture’s Department of Horticulture, as well as Ithaka Hospitality Partners.

And that is likely just the beginning.

«We are always looking to collaborate with other programs on campus,» said Susan Hubbard, dean of the College of Human Sciences. «The College of Agriculture brings the expertise needed to support this aspect of the roof-to-table concept, elevating the academic experience for students in both horticulture and hospitality management. We see this as the beginning of integrating more programs within human sciences and across campus.»

Jack Maruna, a 2018 agriculture graduate and consulting project manager for horticulture, agrees that the garden poses a number of opportunities for future collaboration.

«We are already talking about mental health benefits of being in a garden and how to involve psychology,» he explained. «We have partners in entomology that can do research on the difference in pest pressure between traditional and urban agriculture. Our friends at the bee lab will be able to study the impact of a rooftop garden on our local pollinators. Biosystems engineering students that are employed and working on the rooftop can help with irrigation systems and future projects.

«There is a lot of potential moving forward.»

Desmond Layne, professor and head of the Department of Horticulture, only sees a bright future. He said land-grant universities like Auburn have been pioneers in testing and developing new concepts and providing research-based agricultural solutions for decades.

«Urban and rooftop ‘farming’ is a new frontier, and Auburn is on the forefront,» he said. «My hope is that we will write the first textbook, host the first national conference, and be the ‘go-to’ place for others to learn. This relationship with the College of Human Sciences is special, and one that we intend to grow in the future.»

Starting from seed

The initial collaboration between human sciences and agriculture started about a year ago when Paul Patterson, dean of the College of Agriculture, and Layne were invited to meet with Hubbard; Martin O’Neill, head of the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management; and Hans van der Reijden, founder and CEO of Ithaka Hospitality Partners, the hospitality management company behind The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center and the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center.

«It was always our intention to engage with the College of Agriculture on this initiative, and we were delighted when the proposal was received as enthusiastically as it was. Dean Patterson and Dr. Layne saw the potential immediately and responded in excellent fashion,» said O’Neill «Further, it represents a perfect multidisciplinary union between both educational units on the farm-to-table concept, a union that will benefit students and the community.»

The arrangement was for the two colleges to develop and manage a garden on the roof of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, which, at the time, was under construction. The garden’s produce would be used six floors below in the cutting-edge culinary laboratories and in 1856 – Culinary Residence, the center’s teaching restaurant.

«How many aspiring chefs at other schools are going to know that experience, are going to know about the growing process?» asked O’Neill. «There are few schools that have that type of engagement, let alone a rooftop garden that serves an entire building. It’s inspiring to me, to be honest.»

Van der Reijden said the restaurant itself is a first-of-its-kind facility anywhere in the world because of its concept: An a la carte menu for lunch and a tasting menu for dinner, which is seven to nine courses.

The menu is currently controlled by Chef Tyler Lyne, co-owner of Tasting TBL in Birmingham and the center’s first chef-in-residence. Lyne said the chef-in-residence program puts «real-world professionals in a teaching environment,» which doesn’t happen elsewhere.

«Consider what we’re doing in this kitchen: providing students the opportunity to interact with Michelin-trained or James Beard-nominated chefs that are nationally and internationally known. That’s the kind of high-impact learning experiences that we offer,» said O’Neill.

Van der Reijden called the rooftop garden an asset because it gives new meaning to «locally sourced.» As farm-to-table or farm-to-fork concepts are popular across the country, Auburn has created a «rooftop-to-fork» concept, and «it’s only an elevator ride away.»

Being able to literally pick food at its height, at its freshest, and then ride an elevator down 120 feet, to provide the best flavor to guests of 1856 – Culinary Residence is truly unique. The teaching facility features 46 seats in the restaurant, a private dining room for 12 and six seats at the bar.

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