by A.G. D’Agnese
Thursday evening, the Umpqua Community College Culinary Program presented the third and final of three five-course meals to those diners lucky enough to attend. These dinners represented the culmination of three terms of study for the thirty students and their instructors. When he took over the program four years ago as director, Chris Van Dyke introduced an end-of-term project to students. It has grown larger. This year the students were divided into three teams of ten with each team responsible for the creation, preparation and presentation of a five course gourmet meal for up to one hundred twenty diners. The first dinner was held on May 5 and had a festive Mexican theme with wine service provided by Henry Estates. The second meal was served on May 19 and had a Hawaiian Luau concept with wine from Abacela Winery. Thursday’s Italian dinner was entitled, “Be’nv’nuti in una Notte’ in Toscana” and featured an antipasto, an Italian bread salad, and a lemon sorbet palate cleanser. For the main course the students prepared Timpano, a puff pastry filled with lasagna noodles, red sauce and an assortment of meat and vegetables. And for dessert they served Tiramisu. The wine was from Pyrenees Vineyard and Winery.
Van Dyke feels the biggest benefit for the students is, “…being able to take a concept, put it onto a plate and deliver it to a customer. Every single student that comes in here wants to cook, they want to be chefs. They see the cooking shows and play around with recipes and every one of them thinks they can do almost anything. So once you take that concept and actually have to execute it - will it fit within my budget, is it going to be workable – they have to make all these decisions based on what they can actually do versus what their dream would like them to do. They are forced to go through that mental process of trying to take an idea and put it into action … and do it over a series of five courses.”
One of the students, Kyrie Mahnke, lived in Hawaii for some time and provided help with the theme and menu for her team. She said, “I wasn’t sure of a career so I went with something I enjoy. I always enjoy cooking at home.” Kyrie, who also interns with Abacela, feels that one of the most important lessons she has learned at UCC is, “to be creative … to not be afraid of taking chances with recipes. The staff provides skills, techniques and support that reinforced what my Mom and Dad taught me. The chefs are very supportive. We are here to learn every aspect of the culinary program and to work together as a team.” Kyrie may return to school in the Viticulture Program and would like to, “someday own my own catering business.”
A recurring theme with the students is the enthusiasm and support they receive from the chefs. Each of three areas of the kitchen has a chef that oversees it. Phil Hawkins runs ‘Al A Carte’ while Van Dyke oversees the production kitchen and the bakeshop chef is Steve Fair-Harrison. The teams all have the same budget and the same constraints in terms of production capacity and resources. Corinne Windish, another student that came to the program via cooking shows and a member of the ‘Italian’ team said, “I love to bake. I watch the food network and get these ideas, bring them to Chef Steve and we play with it. This experience is very beneficial to anyone interested in a career in culinary.”
Besides the classroom and kitchen instruction offered at UCC there are a variety of other educational experiences available to students. They participated in the ‘Greatest of the Grape’ as well as an occasional on-campus catering opportunity. Many of the students were at a recent customer service seminar by Paul Paz sponsored by UCC, Seven Feathers and the Small Business Development Center of Roseburg. Some students have an opportunity to intern at a local business. This intern program, where the student has an opportunity to gain real-world experience, is particularly rewarding for both the student and the business.
Theresa Morris of Abacela Winery thinks highly of both UCC interns at the winery, Kyrie Mahnke and Myah Crager. “They come here and they realize that it’s not all glamour; that it’s chopping carrots and washing dishes. It’s not all pretty, there’s hard work involved.” She added, “The interns have been a godsend. They come in, put their heads down and get right to it. If they are any indication of how good a job they’re doing at UCC, then I’d say they are doing a great job!”
When asked to talk about the Culinary Program at UCC, Crager replied, “Well, my overall love of food is what got me here and my interest in learning in general. I also had a friend that was an inspiration to me; she went through this program and told me how much fun it was and what she got out of it. I really enjoy the general freedom that we have to create … and I’ve gotten to take part in different events, there’s lots of extra curriculum events and things you can do.” After the Italian dinner, when asked how it went, she replied, “It went perfect. We got it spot on. I think we figured out what we needed to do from the other dinners. I love that rush of service you get."
This program gives its students a wide variety of educational opportunities and provides trained food service personnel to our community. In at least one case this has led to a new business. Creative Catering in Winston is Scott Rutter’s brainchild. Scott is a graduate of the UCC Culinary Program and recommends it heartily.
At each of the meals, diners were asked to fill out an in depth assessment for each of the five courses. Along with their comments, these grades become the basis for half of the student’s final grade for the program. So getting the food on the plate and served to customers is, in a very real sense, a test. After the dinner, there was a good feeling. Not that everything was perfect, but in a way it was. The students learned another lesson, they gained experience and left better because of it.
Everyone likes it when things work out the way they are supposed to and they love it when their expectations are exceeded. The community should be well pleased with the job done by the culinary program at UCC.