The Farm to Fork School Experience with Executive Chef Joseph Bonomi
Flik Independent School Dining’s Executive Chef Joe Bonomi leads the culinary team at Gill St. Bernard’s in Gladstone, NJ. The 208-acre campus is home to a large garden full of produce and edible flowers and a farm of diverse livestock.
Gill St. Bernard's in a very environmentally conscious school that is 2-Star certified by The Green Restaurant Association, an international nonprofit organization that encourages restaurants to use transparent, science-based certification standards to be more environmentally stable. FLIK Independent School Dining has partnered with the Green Restaurant Association for the past 10 years.
This spring, we chatted with Chef Bonomi about how his environment enhances the Farm to Fork experience for the guests in his school dining room.
FLIK Hospitality: Tell us about the foodservice operation at Gill St. Bernard’s School and how you interact with the farm onsite?
Bonomi: Our school’s kitchen serves about 850 students – pre-K through 12th grade – and staff daily. The students and teachers plant, tend, and harvest some of the crops in our 3-acre garden as part of their science classes and enrichment programs. The middle school raises brown trout from eggs and releases them into local streams and rivers. We have Black Angus cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and donkey on our 100-acre educational farm. The schools is environmentally conscious and our kitchen is a 2-star Green Restaurant. We have a complete recycling program, which includes composting all food waste.
F: Does having a farm onsite influence you to prepare certain foods? How do you plan your menu around the seasons?
B: Most definitely. I regularly communicate with the farm manager and have an idea of what is going to be ready for harvest when, so I plan around that. For example, strawberries and asparagus are the first plants we harvest in mid- to late June. I plan to use strawberries in desserts and dressings and menu soups and salads that use asparagus. Conversely, I also work with the science teacher each fall to plan what crops we will be planting.
F: As a chef, having a farm onsite must be exciting since you have access to fresh foods year-round. What percentage of what you serve in the café is from the farm?
B: Just a small amount at this time, maybe five percent, but we are expanding that this year with better farm management.
F: Have you been able to involve the students in the full life cycle of the plant?
B: Yes. Students are involved in planting, harvesting, and cooking and eating during our summer programs.
F: Have you noticed that the students are more open to tasting new fruits, vegetables, meats, and more since they are involved in the growing and harvesting of those foods?
B: Definitely. The students have a vested interest, so they seem to be more adventurous and will take part in a small tasting at the very least.
F: A few last details, Chef Joe. What is your favorite part of your job?
B: Working with the kids and my team in such a nice environment.
F: And what is your favorite food?
B: Anything someone else prepares...
Chef Joseph Bonomi has resided in Orange County, NY, with his wife and two sons for the past 20 years. His parents raised him with farm to table values and he currently lives in a farming area with a nice size garden and raises chickens.
Bonomi has been in the food industry for over 25 years. He started as a butcher’s apprentice and owned a restaurant for an eight-year stint, before joining FLIK Hospitality Group. He has been with FLIK for eight years and in his current position for almost two. Bonomi enjoys traveling, hiking, biking, fishing, and most other outdoor activities.
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