The Squeaky Bean has always been a little out there (with Saturday Bingo Brunch and celebrity cocktail shrines as evidence), but the downtown farm-centered restaurant could soon be taking its creativity to new heights. Partner and chief bean farmer Josh Olsen is working with a team of high-school students to create a dish that may make its way to the International Space Station.
Olsen is mentoring a group from Lakewood's WarrenTech High School, which is competing in a culinary challenge through NASA's HUNCH ( High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware) program. The contest began with 21 teams from around the country submitting recipes that might work for flight and in microgravity, according to NASA. Now the competition has been whittled down to ten finalists, including Olsen's WarrenTech team, which is headed to the Johnson Space Center in Houston today to prepare its dishes for a panel of judges. The winning team will have its entree processed and sent to the space station.
"I heard about the challenge through my involvement with WarrenTech, managing their farm, Acres, and teaching their students," Olsen explains. "It's such an honor to be one of ten schools chosen to compete at the Johnson Space Center today, and I'm most excited at the opportunity to let people know what these fantastic students are doing at WarrenTech and Acres farm."
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WarrenTech's programs include culinary classes and instruction in natural and organic farming; Olsen is involved with both at the school. Much of the produce grown at Acres makes its way to the Squeaky Bean's seasonal menu.
WarrenTech's dish, which the team will prepare at NASA's Space Food Systems Laboratory, is a mushroom-and-millet entree made with caramelized mushrooms, onions, millet, Beluga lentils, thyme and wintered-over carrots (carrots left in the ground over the winter, which intensifies the flavor and sweetness). Competitors had to meet certain dietary requirements, including keeping each serving in a range of 300 to 500 calories, with less than 30 percent of the calories coming from fat and less than 10 percent of that as saturated fat. The dish also needed to contain fewer than 300 milligrams of of sodium, fewer than eight grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber.
The winner of the competition will be named tomorrow, so Olsen, the Squeaky Bean and this group of Colorado kids could soon be sky-high with pride. And in the process, they could add truth to the witticism about dining in space: great food but no atmosphere.