Lincoln, Neb. —Prime rib. New York strip. Sirloin. Flat Iron. Brisket. And a special set of short ribs.
A seemingly never-ending cavalcade of Nebraska beef — all locally grown in Ashland, just 30 minutes from campus — was what was for dinner April 14 at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Cather Dining Center. And the moving menu drew in herds of students, each hoping to graze on some of the best beef the Cornhusker State has to offer.
“This is incredible — it’s why we’re here eating at 4:30,” said Grace Clausen, a junior computer science major. “We saw it advertised on a board and knew it was something we just had to come try. It's an amazing opportunity."
The protein-focused meal was held as part of University Housing and Dining Services’ “Nebraska. Local.” program. Launched originally as “Good. Fresh. Local.” in 2005, the program seeks to forge partnerships with ag producers to provide locally-sourced produce, meats and other foodstuffs for the university's dining halls.
The program currently features seven partners, including Ashland’s Raikes Beef Co. — the star of the beefy menu. The Ashland-based company is ran by Justin and Lindsey Raikes. The couple, their children, and Justin's mom, Helen Raikes, emeritus Willa Cather Professor of education and human sciences, attended the dining event. Their family-run business currently provides the majority of the beef served under the “Nebraska. Local.” banner in Cather, Harper and Selleck dining halls.
The list of locally-produced options served in campus dining hall menus traditionally expands with the growing season and has often culminated in a celebratory Thanksgiving meal. Pam Edwards, assistant director of University Dining Services, said nearly 10 percent of menu items served annually in the university's dining halls are provided through the “Nebraska. Local.” program.
“The first year, we only served local items for the Thanksgiving meal,” Edwards said. “Today, it's grown to year-round service.
“It’s a concept that we weren’t encouraged to start. Rather it was something our dining team wanted to do as a way to work and support our local producers while highlighting to our students the variety of goods grown in and around Nebraska.”
The vast majority of goods served through the program are grown in Nebraska. However, it allows for any item grown within 250 miles of the Cornhusker State's border — opening up access to goods from South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.
For the April 14 meal, Cather Dining Center staff prepared an estimated 500+ pounds of Raikes Beef, serving it at a special carving station. The cooks also made an array of sides items — from homemade horseradish sauce and sautéed mushrooms to garlic mashed potatoes and mac and cheese — to complete the steakhouse experience.
While the entire menu drew raves, the short ribs — braised in a sauce made from scratch by Jake Dietrich — were a favorite. They even drew kudos from Raikes family members who attended the event.
“We have a really great team of cooks who worked on this and they deserve all the credit,” said Dietrich, an assistant food service manager who led creation of the menu. “They really came together to make this meal special for our students.”
The “Nebraska. Local.” event was the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Edwards and Dietrich said they hoped the Raikes Beef Co. menu signals a return to more normal service and the ability to offer special meals on a regular basis.
That idea was welcomed news to Clausen and her friends.
“It’s just super awesome that the university is supporting local producers — especially those from Nebraska,” Clausen said. “We really appreciate that this is a focus or our university.”