Local Chefs Provide Sustainable Menus for Community Homestead

Three chefs are giving their students an experience of a lifetime, while helping people with disabilities.

Community Homestead is an Osceola, Wis.-based living and working community for people with disabilities that’s centered on an organic and sustainable farm. “They live in different houses on the farm, and they just work on the farm. They produce beautiful food,” chef Nathan Sartain says of the community’s residents. “They approached us about coming and doing a fundraiser using their products. We came out and did a shindig [in June]. They harvested a hog for us and grew vegetables, and we created a menu from these for the event.”

For Sartain and two other culinary instructors at St. Paul College, working with students on sustainability and service learning is important; Sean Jones and Sara Johannes met Sartain through the college and have been working with Community Homestead for the past six years. Aside from the event held earlier this summer, the three regularly create delicious meals to raise money for Community Homestead. These events do a lot of good, and the passion for cooking, charity and sustainability is evident in all three chefs.

Chef Nathan Sartain

Nathan Sartain began his culinary journey 22 years ago. Sartain spent his days doing undergraduate work in social studies and spent his evenings cooking. “I liked the fact that it was something that was physical and creative and team-oriented and cerebral,” Sartain says. “So I took a hiatus from my undergraduate work and went to culinary school.”

It was Sartain’s mentor, Eric Stenberg, who really influenced Sartain’s love of sustainability. “I think that if you’re looking at the world’s [ills], a lot of them could be cleaned up a little bit by thinking about where your food comes from and using that to govern what you’re going to eat. It could take care of a lot of public health concerns, and it could take care of a lot of environmental concerns,” Sartain says. “It’s just a lot deeper than cooking good food for somebody and taking their money.”

Favorite part about the event: “If you get students outside of the classroom, it’s a really powerful learning modality. If you get them outside of the classroom and put them in service learning, then it’s really potent and powerful,” Sartain says. “It’s really satisfying for me to watch the students learning, and it’s great to get together. It’s great for us to associate with our community.”

Chef Sean Jones

Sean Jones knew that cooking was something he wanted to do from age 13. “It’s just something that I had always done,” Jones says. “I’ve always loved being in the kitchen.”

A defining moment was working at W.A. Frost in St. Paul, where he had his first introduction to finer foods. Deciding to attend college in Milwaukee, Jones solidified the choice to become a chef. “Cooking was just one of those things where I realized that I had always loved doing it. And it never seemed like anything else really suited me that well,” he says. “I just had the realization that it’s more important to do what I enjoy.”

There was one other subject that interested him when he was in school—teaching. “Now I kind of have both of those going on,” he says. Jones talks about the helpfulness of the chefs whom he’s worked with throughout his career, including Lucia Watson and Paul Bartolotta, but cites his mother as the one who influenced him the most. “She was always trying new things,” Jones says. “She was always being creative in her own way.”

Favorite part about the event: “The service learning projects just lend so much more experience ... it gives them the ability to be a little more involved in the learning process,” he says. “Also, the sense of community—the ability for the students to be able to go on-site and see the place and connect to everything that’s going on is pretty unique.”

Chef Sara Johannes

Sara Johannes’s love for cooking started when she was just a child. “I was always fascinated as a kid, back when cooking shows used to only be on PBS, and you had to watch them on Sunday afternoon. That was kind of my jam when I was a kid,” she says.

Johannese cites her great-grandmother as one of her biggest cooking influences growing up. “She was an Italian immigrant,” Johannes says, “and every square inch of her yard was cultivated. She had grapes; she grew her own herbs, lettuce, tomatoes. Everything she needed, she grew there.” With this influence in Johannes’s life, it’s no wonder that her first job was in a restaurant when she was 15 years old. “You kind of get it in your system at that point,” Johannes says. “Some things just kind of click.”
Johannes initially went to school for theater, but changed her mind when she was 26 and started down the culinary path at St. Paul College. “I decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living, and I wanted to do it seriously,” she says. After graduating, she got a job at Wolfgang Puck in Minneapolis. “I started as a line cook and made my way up to sous-chef, then was offered my first executive chef position.” Johannes also participated in season 11 of Top Chef and made it to the top 10. “It was fun. It was such a great experience to be with all of those amazing chefs on that show,” Johannes says. “You never know what’s going to happen, but every day’s an adventure. You go to these exotic locales and see cool stuff and cook great food and hang out, through better or worse.”

Favorite part about the event: “Just being out on the farm [and] watching the students interact with the farm itself,” Johannes says. “So many of them were so fascinated with everything that was going on there, I had to almost literally drag them out of the cow barn.”  

Community Homestead and a Country Banquet Menu

Community Homestead launched in 1995 and is centered on an organic and sustainable farm. A community of people with developmental abilities and disabilities live and work on the farm. Community Homestead has been holding its Country Banquet for several years and has been working with St. Paul College culinary instructors Nathan Sartain, Sean Jones and Sara Johannes to put this fundraiser on to raise money to create housing opportunities for people with disabilities. The instructors and their students create a meal using the organic food from the farm and CSA garden.

This year’s event was hosted June 25, and the chefs were given a cow, a large quantity of vegetables and strawberries, honey, maple syrup and raw milk. They created a variety of beef entrées, including smoked beef and sausages, a strawberry dessert and a variety of cheeses made of the raw milk they were given.