With a passion for sustainability, Chef Branden Lewis, associate professor in the College of Culinary Arts, returned to the culinary lab at his alma mater nearly nine years ago to teach.
His interest in this subject area has led him to pursue a doctoral degree in Educational Sustainability at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the development of JWU’s Wellness & Sustainability Concentration, and the new B.S. in Sustainable Food Systems, which will be starting at JWU in fall 2020. “I am very proud of [the Sustainable Food Systems] program and the faculty members who have worked with me to make that dream a reality,” says Branden.
Another passion is his family. Branden and his wife Monica reside in Scituate, Rhode Island, with “two incredible children. Talea, my oldest is nine and a busy body with scouts, swimming and drama. My five-year-old son Brier swims, plays soccer and is joining the scouts this fall. I feel like an UBER driver sometimes!” Cheenuk, the husky, and Chimay, the cat who is named after the beer, round out the home.
1. What new place would you most like to travel?
I worked a lot in Europe in my 20’s, and I have visited Southeast Asia multiple times because my wife is from Surabaya. I also sometimes serve as a study abroad leader to Singapore. For a new place to visit, we would like to spend more time in Japan, see India and Iceland, and visit countries in South America like Peru, Chile and Argentina.
2. What is your favorite course to teach and why?
I have two favorites: Sustainability in the Culinary Kitchen and Plant-based Cuisine. In these classes I get to explore the RI food system with my students. I bring them to organic livestock farms to work with pigs, chickens and milking cows. I take them to Save the Bay to taste locally grown oysters, harvested quahogs, and locally caught fish. And, we shop locally through a food hub to create local, high-end menus produced in the kitchen for chef’s tables. These courses are rich and transformative, and I love taking students through the experience. Every student who has taken these courses experience something they have never done before and it changes the way they see food, the food system, and their role in it.
3. What’s your favorite place to dine in Rhode Island?
Trap! I have too many friends with nice restaurants in the area to ever get away with answering that question.
4. What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of—personally and/or professionally?
Personally, it’s clearly my kids. They are the most amazing and to think I somehow contributed to that… it blows my mind.
Professionally, it’s my journey into sustainability. Sustainability is far more than energy or resource management. It’s also about our environment, and it’s about humans, non-humans, relationships, stewardship and thinking in systems—natural systems.
5. What’s your favorite thing about JWU?
From my vantage point, it’s all about students and cooking. The Harborside Campus is like Hogwarts for foodies. Just walk through the space and you’ll feel the magic. Halls are filled with the smells of artisan bread in the oven, chicken in the tandoor, and tonight’s special on the grill. Enter any lab to get a taste of something great and to meet someone inspired to cook at JWU in pursuit of their dreams. That is my favorite thing about JWU.