Sustainability isn’t just talk at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Bronson Healthy Living Campus, on Walnut Street, in downtown Kalamazoo. It’s practice. Which is why the waste created at the campus’s Allied Health Building by the college’s sustainable brewing program is used by culinary students elsewhere in the building to make bread.
“The brewery is right there,” says culinary instructor Cory Barrett, pointing to its close proximity to his office, “and the bakery is right down the hall, so it made sense. They (the brewers) have leftover product, so let’s use it up.”
Using spent grain — also called mash — which is left over from the beer-making process, Barrett and students in KVCC’s culinary program create two types of bread that are sold at the culinary school’s on-site café: Spent Grain and Beer Soda Bread and Spent Grain Beer Bread.
It takes a bit of practice to use this grain, Barrett admits, since spent grains can be tricky to work with.
“It makes things really dense,” he explains. “Bread is basically a big network of little tiny balloons — that’s where you end up with all the air that the yeast makes inside of the bread.” When spent grain or any whole grain with a hull intact is mixed into those balloons, it acts like little razor blades that break the air sacs. “Then the bread deflates and it ends up really dense,” Barrett says.
The brewery’s close proximity to the bakery allows the students to use wet mash — still damp from the brewing process — as opposed to dry mash to make bread. Wet mash works better, Barrett says, because it has more flavor and still contains some of the malted liquid from the brewing process. The bran and husks of wet mash are also more tender and easier to knead into bread dough, he says.
A loaf of Spent Grain Beer Bread looks like most handcrafted bread, well-risen with a golden brown crust, and the texture “has a fun element of chewiness to it,” says Barrett.
The word “beer” appears in the breads’ names for a reason: Beer is substituted for water in the recipes to produce a malty flavor. Barrett likes to use brown ales containing a strong malt backbone without many hops. Anything “really hoppy,” he says, produces bitterness in bread, but a strong ale doesn’t.
“It goes into a 400-degree box for almost an hour,” he explains. “Flavors are going to be lost, but other flavors develop.”
The bakery’s Spent Grain and Beer Soda Bread is easier for students to make because it depends on baking powder to rise rather than yeast. “It’s not as dependent on those tiny little yeast networks,” Barrett explains.
Barrett and his students produce about 70 pounds of bread per week, with the spent grain breads accounting for nearly 30 pounds of that total. The bakery has three baking stations, which can each accommodate up to five students. Over an eight-week period, students train for five and a half hours five days a week.
“They get a full experience,” Barrett says. “By the time that they’re all done, they get to go through all of the recipes.”
Before Barrett came to Kalamazoo, he worked as a corporate pastry chef for Michael Symon Restaurants in Cleveland and appeared with Symon on more than 15 episodes of Iron Chef America on the Food Network. Prior to that, Barrett was a pastry chef at Wynn Las Vegas and The Herbfarm restaurant in Seattle. But he admits he saw himself teaching one day.
“When I went into culinary school, I knew that one day I was going to be a teacher,” says Barrett. “There was no doubt about it because it was a way to stay in food, to be intellectually involved and hands-on, and not have the maniacal hours.”
KVCC’s sustainable approach to food also intrigued Barrett.
“I think the most interesting part of coming here — and it’s been a year now — was an alternative look on traditional culinary, kitchen and hospitality settings, an alternative look being done in a sustainable manner,” Barrett says. “I think at a lot of places the conversation is one that you have after you get everything set up — asking how can we do things better? Here it’s a conversation that we have at every step of the process.”
Working seven years for Michael Symon Restaurants and appearing on Iron Chef America was challenging due to long hours and high expectations, but also greatly rewarding, he says.
“One of the things I do miss about that job tremendously is you’re in a setting completely surrounded by individuals who are excellent at cooking already. The people that you work with who know everything are constantly challenging you. In the end that builds a really great result for everyone.”
The end result in this case: a knowledgeable instructor.
“I’ve had enough time to make all the mistakes students are probably going to make,” he says. “I joke to them in class, ‘Well, I’ve been there before.’”