A rainbow of greens, fruits and pesto pizza adorned plates lined up to serve more than 100 guests at the Green Tie Gala at Western Washington University on May 9. A group of servers, dressed in casual clothes, arranged the food, garnishing it with yellow kale flowers.
“It is so good!” Forest Tapley said while running up to the chef, Chelsea Gabrielle Enwall. “I had one bite and had to come tell you!”
Tapley’s delight with the flavor of the food at Western Washington University’s Student Food Co-op’s first catering event seemed to be shared by most guests because very few morsels were left on plates by the end of the meal.
The club’s president, Enwall, was the mastermind behind the menu. She said she wanted to make something they could cook quickly that would accommodate any type of dietary restriction.
She described the meal as, “delicious, simple, dietary need-friendly and something that wasn’t too abstract.”
The club also utilized a lot of local resources to get ingredients. The rhubarb and mint for the salad came right out of Western’s own Outback farm that morning, Enwall said.
They gleaned produce from Broad Leaf Farm, Alm Hills Farm, K & M Farm, Terra Verde Farm and Spring Frog Farm by asking for donations at the farmer’s market in Bellingham, Wash.
“The original intent was to go and support these farms financially, but they gave us produce, which was really awesome,” Enwall said.
With fresh ingredients from local farms and bulk orders from the Co-op, they created a meal that was gluten free, dairy free, soy free and nut free, Enwall said.
The club wanted to show that it is possible to make delicious food while keeping food allergies in mind, Enwall said. They also wanted to showcase the type of food they would serve if there were a student run food alternative on campus.
“It was a really cool way to just be like, ‘gluten free stuff doesn’t taste like cardboard!’” Nicole Anschelo, who helped cook, said.
Enwall contacted the Whatcom County Health Department a month before the event to make sure they followed all safety guidelines for serving food.
They had to get a permit from the department, which cost $85. They also had to have a hand washing station at the event, have health cards for servers and cooks, use gloves to serve food and prepare the food in a certified kitchen, Enwall said.
The major food safety regulations include temperature control and limited time between preparation and service, said Tom Kunesh, supervisor of the food safety program at Whatcom County Health Department.
“I really wanted to make sure that we were following everything so we could do this in the future,” Enwall said.
Aramark did not have space to let the club use their kitchen so they rented an industrial kitchen in Ferndale from Memorable Events and Catering.
Enwall said one of the biggest contributors to their success in catering was the help of the health department. They answered all her questions throughout the process.
Getting the permit a month prior was important to the success of the event because state law requires people to obtain a permit two weeks before serving an event, Kunesh said.
The rules about sanitation are in place to prevent the growth of pathogens on food, Kunesh said.
“We educate people, we establish some basic standards and criteria for food preparation and service, all with the ultimate goal of making sure that foods that are served to the public are healthy and safe,” Kunesh said.
Although complying with health standards was stressful, especially when transporting the food from Ferndale to campus, Enwall said it paid off. She said the health inspector told her they were more professional than some of the restaurants the inspector has inspected.
“I’m a stickler for food safety so I’m really glad that we knocked their socks off,” said Amy Hess, who helped with food preparation and organizing. “That bodes well for them for catering in the future.”
At about $5 a plate, and tickets at $7, the event managed to raise money for next year’s environmental club’s activities, Enwall said.
Enwall regularly cooks for her eight housemates but she’s never cooked for 100 people before. With a team of about 15 cooks and servers helping out, the club managed to make the meal a success, Enwall said.
“Catering is beyond stressful, I’ve learned, because things don’t come together until the last minute,” Enwall said.
Hess, who helped cook, is the Northwest regional organizer for the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, which supports cooperatively run student food enterprises.
She helped train Enwall on business planning, campus organizing and fundraising, which has contributed to building the Student Food Co-op’s presence on campus.
“They clearly have a lot of support with all the other [environmental] clubs, so I think that’s a really good thing to see,” Hess said. “I think that an event like this shows them how much they can do, and that they need to just do it.”
The club’s ultimate goal is to educate people about food issues and make allergen-free and fair trade food more accessible to students, Enwall said.
“The best way [to educate] is to give people good food that they probably wouldn’t have eaten otherwise,” Anschelo said.
Jennifer Peach, who helped serve at the event, does not normally eat vegan or allergy-free food, but she said she was impressed with the meal.
“I just wolfed it,” Peach said. “The crust is actually really good. I’m usually skeptical of gluten free but it was delicious. She [Enwall] converted me.”
Enwall said the club hopes to sell bulk foods on vendors row by the end of the quarter.