Like many of today’s top eateries, NIU’s student-run restaurant Ellington’s features seasonal and locally sourced food. That’s not just because it’s trendy; it’s because it makes good business sense.
“Our goal is for students to learn and understand how to make the best of what’s in season and what’s local. It’s a smart financial aspect to running a restaurant. There’s no point in spending money for ingredients shipped from around the country when you can get quality, local ingredients cheaper,” said Chef Bryan Flower, Food Systems Lab Coordinator for NIU’s Family, Consumer & Nutrition Sciences program.
Since a three-course lunch meal at Ellington’s is $10, and the goal is to get 50 percent back, using ingredients that are available and are going to reduce costs, makes sense, Flower explained.
Students in the program get six weeks to prepare for the opening of Ellington’s, which is located in the Holmes Student Center. They learn how to work with a set amount of ingredients to make nutritious and cost-effective menus. They are tasked with building a menu around one fruit and one vegetable that is in season for the duration of the semester. One of those two ingredients must be included in each dish of the three courses — a starter, an entrée and a dessert. Proteins are pork, chicken, salmon or other lake fish, foodstuffs typically available in the area.
There are two separate menus, one for Tuesday and one for Thursday, with the student groups selecting everything for the dining experience from table settings to the menu themes.
Since half of the students in the program are studying nutrition — the others are studying hospitality — making healthy fare part of the menu is key. Ellington’s menus must include heart-healthy choices that are low in calories. Students learn how to analyze their menus for nutrients, as well as make nutritional food tasty and well presented.
“Taste is very important. /if people aren’t eating the food, they aren’t getting the nutrients,” said Josephine Umoren, coordinator of NIU’s Nutrition Dietetics & Hospitality Management program.
Visit Ellington’s website to learn more or to make a lunch reservation.