North Idaho Cooks: Emery's Restaurant

By / Photography By Tom Greene | March 15, 2015
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Kootenai Environmental Alliance’s (KEA) Gathering Garden

Restaurant and garden add flavor to education

Sitting in Emery’s Restaurant in the Hedlund Building at North Idaho College (NIC), the view of the beach along Lake Coeur d’Alene is exquisite. This little-known eatery is completely operated by the students of NIC’s Culinary Arts Program, and is open for lunch during the fall and spring semesters, as well as for a few holiday and event dinners.

In 2014, Emery’s garnered the distinction of being the only North Idaho school to source food that had been grown “zero carbon miles” from their kitchen, thanks to their collaboration with Kootenai Environmental Alliance’s (KEA) Gathering Garden.

Established in 1990 by director Rick Schultz, the Culinary Arts Program is a nine-month certificate course focused on the foundational basics of food service.

“Really, food hasn’t changed that much over 100 years—ingredients have, but the main styles of cooking haven’t,” Schultz explained. “If [our students] learn the basics, they are only stopped by what their work ethic is, their imagination and where their passion lies.”

About three years ago, NIC, Emery’s and Schultz expanded their hands-on experience and community connection by teaming up with KEA to establish a Gathering Garden on campus.

“We are really proud of the investment they’ve made in us,” said Adrienne Cronebaugh, executive director of KEA. “They have really helped us get a lot of things up and running so that we can pop out a lot of produce for them to use.”

The land where NIC stands is, historically, where the Coeur d’Alene Tribe gathered during the summer to hunt, fish, dance, feast and swim. The Gathering Garden now sits on the Tribe’s original convening spot, transforming it into an abundant growing and learning space.

In the first two years—with the help of NIC students as well as a group of at-risk youth from Crosswalk North Idaho’s Work Ready program— the Garden crew was able to build raised beds, improve soil fertility and figure out what foods would grow well. Working with the students was an eye-opener for Cronebaugh.

“You talk to kids who have no idea where the food in the grocery store comes from,” she said. “They think grapefruits and pineapples grow somewhere around here, maybe.” The most amazing thing for her is seeing these kids connect with their food and widen their food experience.

The Garden harvested its first crop in 2014. Emery’s bought up most of it, and the rest was distributed to local food banks through KEA’s Local Food Share Program.

“In the fall, we purchased about 275 pounds worth of produce,” Schultz said, “everything from onions, potatoes and carrots to herbs, Swiss chard and pumpkins.” The tomatoes impressed Schultz the most. “To have fresh tomatoes available, like they were producing, was a gift from heaven!”

As they embark on the 2015 growing season, Cronebaugh is excited to continue the collaboration with not only Emery’s, but with other NIC departments, such as environmental sciences, hospitality and technical education.

“I hope that what we are creating is an example,” she said, “not only for other universities, but also other restaurants and groups.”

All the funds from this partnership stay in the community and are used to buy seeds, improve the Garden, grow even more food and strengthen the local food network.

“We just hope to copy, paste, repeat all around town,” said Cronebaugh, “keeping not only money local, but also food.”

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