Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facility, continues to enhance its animal welfare methods and infrastructure with the grand opening of its new commissary. To celebrate the commissary opening, the Zoo will host a Commissary Cook Off on Thursday, May 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eight students from the Trumbull High School Culinary Arts Program, under the direction of instructor Chef Craig Voytek, will compete in the cook off. Their challenge is to turn a selection of animal diet, restaurant-quality products into delicious dishes suitable for humans.
Animal caretakers at the Zoo prepare dozens of nutritionally balanced animal diets each day for the Zoo’s 300 animal residents, utilizing fresh, human-grade foods, ranging from local fish and lamb shanks to grains, fruit, vegetables, and more. The new commissary, funded in part with a grant from the City of Bridgeport, offers enhanced food preparation areas, a larger pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, and a large window so guests can watch food preparation and learn more about animal diets.
Partnered with Zoo animal caretakers, each of the students was assigned an animal diet to use as the inspiration for their dish. The students have created original dishes based on a list of food products and submitted their plans to Chef Voytek for approval prior to the competition. Judges will critique dishes based on presentation, taste, color, and creativity.
Animal diets include the following — Eagle: Thai Glazed Salmon; Alligator: Honey Chipotle Chicken Wings and Almonds; Howler Monkey: Grilled Chicken Thighs & Fruit Salad; Red Footed Tortoise: Chicken Teriyaki with Mango Kale Salad; Condor: Carne Asada with yellow rice and sweet plantains; Maned Wolf: Broiled Duck Breast & Roasted Vegetables; Guinea Hog: Stuffed Portabella Mushroom with Pancetta; Iguana: Zucchini Pasta and Spring Roll.
Judges include Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, Zoo Director Gregg Dancho, Genee Habansky of Herbaceous Catering Company, Jim Calkins of Seasonal Catering Company, Kitchen Corner Owner Jack Ciarletto, Trumbull Public Schools Curriculum Director Dr. Jonathan Budd, and the Zoo’s Peacock Café Chef Peter Gordon.
- 11 a.m. Students begin food preparation
- 1 p.m. Presentation of dishes to judges
- 1-1:30 Judging and Awarding of Prizes
- 1:30 Commissary Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, Mayor Joe Ganim and Zoo Director Gregg Dancho presiding, followed by media tour of the commissary.
Prizes were donated by the Kitchen Corner in Fairfield. In addition, each student will receive a Zoo t-shirt.
About the Commissary
Each week, the Commissary receives fresh, human-grade food from local food suppliers, in addition to special animals diet requirements. A normal week’s delivery includes fish, lamb and chicken, as well as vegetables and fruit. Animal diets are supplemented with vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health, as directed by the Zoo’s nutrition experts and veterinarian. Diets may change due to health issues, illnesses, pregnancies and individual animal preferences, so every day is a new day in the Zoo kitchen. Non-human foods include prepared diets in pellet form, fish heads and bones, or a variety of rodents and insects.
Animal caretakers must deliver animal meals to their exhibits on a regular schedule, 365 days a year, in all weather. Food distribution is often a part of each animal’s behavioral enrichment program, so food may be hidden inside objects, scattered across the exhibit to encourage foraging, or frozen in blocks of ice. Each animal caretaker follows strict guidelines for food safety and preparation, as well as maintaining commissary cleanliness standards for all equipment.
The new commissary will allow guests visiting the zoo to watch animal caretakers prepare diets, with large signs listing animals and their designated meals each day. This is another of the myriad ways that Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo engages the public in ongoing education, and promotes understanding of animal welfare.
For more information, visit beardsleyzoo.com.