Hot! Hot! Hot! UT Culinary Institute Adds Hot Peppers to its Kitchen Garden

"Five Alarm Garden"

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Culinary Institute this summer added a new crop to its kitchen garden: bhut jolokia, a Thai pepper that is the hottest pepper in the world.

Unless it is prepared correctly, bhut jolokia is so hot it can cause severe reactions, even heart attack. Signs in the garden warn people not to eat the raw peppers.

The bhut jolokia was planted in a section of the Culinary Institute’s kitchen garden dubbed the “Five Alarm Garden” because it also contains jalapeños, habaneros and various other types of hot peppers. Culinary Institute students use peppers from the garden in the dishes they prepare.

The Five Alarm Garden was the brainchild of John Antun, assistant professor of retail, hospitality and tourism management and director of the Culinary Institute. Antun said he learned of bhut jolokia through Annette Wszelaki, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and UT vegetable extension specialist.

The Culinary Institute’s kitchen garden is located outside the UT Visitors Center, 2712 Neyland Drive. Now two years old, the garden produces figs, carrots, blueberries, thyme, curly parsley and other ingredients used by the Culinary Institute’s student chefs.

The Culinary Institute is a 10-month intensive certificate program offered by the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management of UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Antun and other local chefs are the instructors at the institute. Open to anyone who has received a high school diploma, the program prepares students for the National Restaurant Association-approved exam, and at the end of the course, the students receive a certificate of culinary arts and Servsafe food service. This year, the Culinary Institute is pairing up with Pellissippi State Community College to provide 50 community college students with a concentration in culinary arts.

“The whole idea of having a kitchen garden is to involve local food,” Antun said. Using locally grown produce helps to cut down on food miles, or how many miles food travels from the ground to your table. On average, most food in America is shipped between 1,300 and 1,500 miles before being consumed, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Not only does the produce from the garden have zero food miles, but it also helps give the Institute’s students hands-on experience with their food.

“Students need to connect to the food in the ground, not only in a physical way, but a psychological way,” Antun said. “When you can fully understand it is when you can deal with it best.”

For more information on the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee or the Five Alarm Garden, contact Antun at 865-974-3732 or antun@utk.edu.

Editor’s note: Photo credit should read “Copyright 2010, Steve Chastain, Expressions Photography, www.expressionsfoto.com”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@utk.edu)

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