Senior Mississippi University for Women culinary arts student Christina Gross passes cookies to Kevin Townsel, 8, from The W's Project CHEW food truck during Wassail Fest in Columbus Dec. 2. Kevin's parents are Shree and Earnest Townsel of Columbus. Betsy Cunningham, left, and Odell King Jr. help man the portable unit. Wassail Fest introduced many in the community to the university's new mobile kitchen. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
December 14, 2016 11:03:21 AM
With the recent debut of the Project CHEW food truck, Mississippi University for Women's Culinary Arts Institute has raised its visibility. The mobile kitchen expands Project CHEW's goal to promote wiser food choices and food prep. CHEW stands for Cook Healthy: Eat Well.
"Our mission is to teach how to prepare foods in a healthy way," said Amanda Dahl, interim director of the Culinary Arts Institute. Emphasis is placed on using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and more nutritious ways to prepare them for our tables. "Instead of going to the grocery store and buying boxed ingredients that are processed, we hope to encourage people to prepare foods in a healthful manner."
Downtown Columbus' Wassail Fest Dec. 2 gave much of the community its first glimpse of the CHEW food truck. The W's advanced baking students manned the mobile kitchen, serving wassail and cookies to merrymakers. The unit had its initial public outing, however, in late September, serving healthful smoothies to a smaller but active crowd at Barefoot on the Bridge at the Columbus Riverwalk. The yoga event was hosted by The W's Passport to Wellness program and Bliss Yoga.
Even at a bell-ringing fete like Wassail Fest, the idea of moving Mississippi's food choices in a healthier direction was incorporated. The W's wassail contained lower sugar content than traditional wassail, and it was infused with fruit, Dahl noted.
The Project CHEW food truck will raise its profile in the year to come. It can be used for demos and events at K-12 schools and community colleges, and will partner with more Passport for Wellness events. That program champions nutrition and physical activity.
Early dates filled in on the CHEW truck calendar already include the Jan. 23 kickoff of the university's spring fitness challenge, and a Feb. 9 Golden Triangle-wide alumni event.
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"The whole thing with Project CHEW is cooking healthy," said senior culinary major Nolan Baker. He was one of the first people at The W to set foot in the new unit. He also was along for its first outing, at Barefoot on the Bridge. The soft opening was an opportunity for W personnel to get more familiar with the logistics of hauling, setting up and operating the 24-foot food truck. It can comfortably accommodate six to eight people working inside, said Dahl.
"It's a full working mobile kitchen -- grills, ovens, warming drawers, three-compartment sink, refrigerator, freezer," she explained.
Baker added, "It's got prep stations, ice maker and even a restroom in there. It's really kind of amazing that there's that much in it."
Like other culinary students, Baker looks forward to new opportunities. Interning in the mobile unit offers a different perspective on the food service industry, from developing recipes suited to prep in its kitchen to directly interacting with the public.
Project CHEW is made possible through funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.
"They've been very generous with us, and we're very appreciative," Dahl said.
Dr. Scott Tollison, dean of the College of Business and Professional Studies, remarked, "I believe Project CHEW will help The W play a role in building a healthier Mississippi and prove that the building blocks for these meals are grown right here in our home state. In addition, this project demonstrates the preparation of healthy, nutritious meals can be done anywhere, even on the road from a food trailer."
Keep an eye out for the blue and white rig in the Golden Triangle. The W's new rolling stock is good publicity for university, Baker said.
"We want the public to know, hey, we've got this, and we want to be able to teach you about our mission at Project CHEW."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.