Cooking with: CMC chef Joseph Lentz |

Cooking with: CMC chef Joseph Lentz

Scott Franz

Cameron Poole still remembers when Colorado Mountain College’s cafeteria was more, well, college-like.

“It had a good salad bar, but we were always having french fries, grilled cheese and chicken nuggets,” Poole says.

Those days are long gone.

As college kids have grown more “food savvy” and aware of where their meals come from, CMC has adapted and stepped up its game in a brand new dining hall. Today, this city’s college kids, and any community members who are interested, feast on such items as Red Bird Chicken, Cuban Mojo Roasted Pork Loin, brown sugar-glazed sweet potatoes and punjabi roasted curry.

Now, 75 to 80 percent of the produce served is organic and/or local, with some of its pork coming from a farm right here in the Yampa Valley. And all of the pre-consumer waste (meat scraps, uneaten produce ends) is donated to feed livestock at Yampa Valley Farms, which donates a pig in return.

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“We’ve really elevated the program here,” says Poole, who helps oversee the dining operations at the Neas Dining Hall, which is managed by Sodexo and features perhaps the best eatery view in Steamboat.

An integral part of the college’s culinary renaissance is head chef Joseph Lentz, who moved here a year ago from the Napa Valley, which he describes as "the valley of good food and wine." Working alongside lead cook Rory Pierce, Lentz started cooking with his grandmother when he was a child and brought his skills to various restaurants before moving to Steamboat.

Lentz says the menu at CMC is crafted around what students like to eat. In addition to rotating entrees, students have daily access to a full salad bar, deli and dessert table.

Not working on a degree? No problem. Community members can eat lunch at the college for $7.35 and $8.80 for dinner, with meal plans also available.

“Students these days are way more food savvy, and because they eat here everyday, we have to provide a range of authentic cuisine,” says dining hall general manager Bill Watkins. “It took us almost two years to put this team together, and I’m very impressed with the results.”