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Executive Cook Makes Nittany Lion Inn Menu More Local

on September 17, 2012 1:29 PM

As the executive chef of the Nittany Lion Inn, Andrew Monk strives for a more sustainable kitchen, and to make his vision a reality he seeks cooperation and support from the town.

Monk, who was the sous chef at the inn for six years, learned much of what he knows about cooking from his travels. He trained at a cooking institute in New York City, and then cultured himself by cooking cuisines all around the world. He traveled to Hawaii, where he gained experience in Pacific cuisine; South America, where he learned Latin and South American cuisine; France, where he touched on more classical French combinations; and Istanbul, Turkey, where he was educated on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines.

With all he’s learned, he now hopes to take all these influences and combine them as one to make his own American cuisine using local products.

“Philosophically, it’s a melting pot of all the different influences and bringing them together,” he says. “America’s cuisine is a mixture of all the different cuisines out there.”

To make this American cuisine, Monk wants to use food grown and raised in the area, instead of receiving food that has been stored and shipped to State College. Different influences will appear on the menu depending on the seasons and the availability of the foods.

“Vegetables move in and out of availability. Obviously you can’t get a tomato in the middle of winter, but there are things available,” he says.

Although unavailability of some foods is a risk, Monk sees many advantages to having a sustainable kitchen. Using local products now can help stabilize prices in the future. Since the products are not traveling long distances, the business will save money on gas and other fuels. Another benefit is having a better taste, because, as Monk says, “the fresher, the better.”

He has started his crossover to local foods at Whiskers Bar where he has prepared a menu based on local products, including burgers that come from just one cow.

“It’s unique to get a burger and have it be from one cow these days,” Monk says. “The majority of ground beef is coming from the large scale meat-processing plants where they are processing a high volume of animals and the entire scrap load goes into the ground beef. This leads to practices such as pink slime.”

Getting away from the mass production of food can eliminate the industrial practices, therefore giving customers a clean burger that can be traced all the way back to the person who raised the animal.

While Monk is taking steps toward sustainability at the inn, he also wants to make this a project that all businesses can do. It would be lucrative for the businesses as well as the local farmers, he says.

“Next decade it’s going to come to the forefront, and using locally grown food will be a necessity not a trend,” he says. “If we get complete cooperation from all the restaurants in town — the hospital, the jail, anyplace that serves food — then everyone can have a piece of the pie and be profitable.”

He is eager to get this project started, and with the many resources available, including the university, he believes great things will come together in time.

“It’s going to take steady work and cooperation to try and bring people together, and it’s a complex opportunity,” he says. “But it is beneficial to all in the end.”

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