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Want an Emu Taco for Lunch? Head to Kennesaw State.

Chefs in the KSU dining hall cook in small batches. Not only does this provide fresher food, it prevents waste, according to university officials.
Chefs in the KSU dining hall cook in small batches. Not only does this provide fresher food, it prevents waste, according to university officials.
Credit Ryan Nabulsi / twinlensatl.com

Already sick of turkey and dressing?

Consider a lunch of venison roast and maybe a salad made with lettuce grown right down the road.

Does that sound like lunch from a new Atlanta locavore restaurant? Think again: it’s on the menu in the dining hall at Kennesaw State University.Broadcast Version

“Today we have some goat, we have some elk tacos, we have some wild boar at the international station,” says Gary Coltek, the Senior Culinary Director, as he walks me through the dining hall at KSU. He is pointing out some of the 300 menu items. He makes sure half of those dishes are different each day.

I look for the longest line to see what is popular. “Uh, French toast,” says one student waiting in line. I ask the two young women behind him, “You guys are waiting in line for French toast as well?” They both nod vigorously, and one says, “It’s good!”

That’s right: that French toast is made with eggs from KSU’s own farm. The university actually has three farms, two in North Georgia and another just a couple of miles down the road from campus, right along I-75.

Patrol dogs Bacon and Eggs meet us near the front gate. They are KSU employees who protect the free range chickens and the three goats, named Scattered, Smothered and Covered.

The university says it grows about 20% of its produce at the farms.

I ask the lead farmer, Michael Blackwell, to tell me everything the KSU farms grow. “Squash, zucchini, eggplant, corn, strawberries….” As we walk into the greenhouse, he keeps listing items: “Broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, kohlrabi, spinach….” This year, Blackwell has planted heritage apple trees.

Gary Coltek says the short trips from the farms to dining hall help keep down costs. “Right now tomato prices just spiked up to about $60 a case,” says Coltek, “but we have thousands of pounds of tomatoes in the greenhouse.”

Kennesaw State requires all full-time students to participate in the meal plan at some level, and that helps the bottom line, too.

So what did I eat? First, an emu taco. It was good, but for all I know, it could have been chicken.  I also had some venison: a bit dry, which Coltek noticed before I even took a bite. He moved quickly to pull it off the serving line. He says the chefs will use it for stew tomorrow.

“If we have tons of food left over at the end of the day, then we didn’t do a very good job forecasting,” says Melissa McMahon, KSU’s Culinary Marketing person. She says the dining hall has to turn a profit.

Of course, none of this is sustainable if the customers don’t like it. I interrupted almost a dozen students during lunch, and all the reviews were positive.

And then there’s sophomore Justin Komesar who came up to me. “This is my lunch and my dinner, so I think I’m allowed to be a little bit critical of it,” offered Komesar. “And to be honest, it’s hit and miss.”

I asked him to give the chefs some advice. He thinks a moment and says, “You have to find your passion again.”

It looks like Justin might have a future as a restaurant critic.