Monday, August 30, 2010

Rio Salado Opens Sustainable Cafe

By David Staudacher, public relations manager at Rio Salado College

Rio Salado College officially opened its new cafe Tuesday, Aug. 24 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its main site, 2323 W. 14th St., Tempe. The college's employees are excited to see an abundance of fresh dining options available.

But it was clear that Michael Hodgins, the cafe manager and director of the Sustainable Food Systems program, was relishing the moment more than anyone.

"I started working at Rio Salado in February and I've been waiting for the cafe to open since then," Hodgins said. "My staff and I have been working out of a neighbor's kitchen for the past six months, which is a long time for a chef to be away from their kitchen."

It's no surprise Hodgins was eager to start working in the cafe. Before joining Rio Salado, he worked as an executive chef at Bon Appétit, a sustainable-foods contractor in the Valley. It was during this time he realized he had a passion for sustainable foods. Now, he is back in his kitchen, and it is fully sustainable.

"The cafe features energy-efficient appliances, trayless dining, compostable and recyclable food and beverage containers, and the interior is decorated with environmentally friendly paints and adhesives," Hodgins he said. "We strive for zero-waste generation through comprehensive recycling and composting. We also feature seasonal menus, locally produced food, and food that is produced using humane labor practices."

According to Hodgins, a big element of remaining sustainable relies on the cafe chefs working with Valley farmers, ranchers and artisans to see what products are at the peak of freshness. These products are featured in daily specials in the cafe allowing the chefs creative freedom to use what is being harvested from farms in the community.

"By developing partnerships with local producers, the cafe is stimulating the local economy while reducing food miles," he said. "In turn, the cafe receives and prepares better tasting ingredients."

While the cafe is beneficial to the college's faculty, staff and the local community, it also is an integral part of the Sustainable Food Systems program as it serves as a sustainable teaching kitchen for students.

"The cafe is more than just a place where food is served," Hodgins said. "Students participating in the program will work in the café as part of an internship. This will allow them put into practice hands-on what they have been learning online."

In the Sustainable Food Systems program students will learn about the real food movement, how food is produced and purchased, and even preparation techniques for the cooking and baking process. They also contribute to the fresh product selection. Vegetables grown as part of the Organic Gardening class are prepared and served in the cafe.

"There is so much to learn about sustainability," Hodgins said. "There are a lot of people using the term 'green,' but this program will truly show them a more in-depth look at what sustainability and being green means."

To learn more about the Café @ Rio, visit