Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Fresh Taste

This post is written by one of our Grow Food Grow Hope Summer Associates, Amy Petzold, about her experience during the Culinary Job Training Class.

I have always been interested in food from a very young age.  I would invent my own recipes when I was seven and eight no matter how disgusting and odd they looked.  Just imagine what a seven or eight year old would make when left to their own devices.  As I have grown up, food network television shows slowly replaced cartoons in my free time.  I constantly gain ideas from shows that I watch and adapt them in my head making a culinary feast that would rival any top chef…if only in my mind.  I enjoy finding whatever leftovers are in my refrigerator and making new concoctions with foods that are new to me.  I love to eat, I love to cook, and I love to create.  I am forever a foodie through my heart and soul.
            With this blooming love of food and cooking, it is with great excitement that I observed Chef Tom’s Culinary Class held at Sugartree Ministries.  Tom and his group of around ten chefs come together in order to learn new techniques, create food, and share meals.  This lesson that I observed involved learning American Regional Cooking.  Chef Tom explained that each region of American has its own unique style of cooking derived from many different cultures around the world.  Except for Native American cooking, which has been influenced by early settlers, no food is essentially American.  Like our people, American cuisine is a melting pot of cultures and races all coming together to influence one another in unique and surprising ways.  On the menu for this week’s lesson is: smoked pork loin prepared four ways, homemade barbeque sauce, three stuffed chicken recipes, mashed garlic potatoes, roasted herb red potatoes, southern style cole slaw, and a salad with a homemade vinaigrette.  With such an ambitious meal to prepare in four hours, including prep, tasting, and washing, the chefs began dividing tasks immediately and started work.

Students prepare southern style Coleslaw for their American meal.

           Red roasted potatoes with a little Chef creativity
become a magical side dish.

With reality food shows on an all-time high, many Americans have the stereotype that all kitchens have at least one hot-tempered chef that disturbs the relationship of the chefs.  However, this stereotype is instantly broken when one enters the Culinary Class at Sugartree Ministries.  Chef Tom leads a fun, insightful, skill-testing class focused on food and collaboration.  Many kitchens and work places everywhere would marvel at the fun, respectful, and hard-working collaboration of the chefs.  If one did not see the chefs in their chef coats, chef hats, and using proper chef etiquette, one would think that they had just entered a food party of friends rather that a class of working colleagues.  While they work, the chefs joke with each other and liven the room with their comradery.  Do not let the close relationship of the chefs fool you; the chefs have many differing personalities, ages, and lifestyles, yet they are all bound together by a love of food.
            When the class is in full motion, one can only observe the wild, yet focused tornado of foods, jokes, utensils, and pans.  The kitchen comes to life with more dishes and ideas than one can even fathom.  I could give you a blow by blow of the cooking agenda and the recipes, but I will not.  Although I do feel these things are very important, I feel that one can ask for these things at any time.  I want to give you an idea of the overall atmosphere of the class that can only be truly felt through experience, yet I will try with words to paint a similar picture.

Using the new food thermometers donated by Wilmington College's Sodexo
Food Fact: Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

            The various skills taught throughout the class were enough to make one’s head spin.  The chefs learned how to make an inside smoker using everyday kitchen items.  They learned how to make their own barbeque sauce using whatever kind that they would like.  They learned how to make stuffed chicken with a variety of seasonings.  They learned how to make Southern cole slaw and potatoes.  While the chefs were preparing their food, they also were instructed on proper cutting techniques, culinary terminology, proper sauce technique, proper smoking technique, and proper kitchen technique.  The skills that the chefs learned in even one class will be invaluable as they continue on their culinary journey.
            During the class, recipes served only as guidelines.  Chef Tom encouraged the chefs to make the recipes their own.  He allowed them to express their creativity, their personal tastes, and their personalities through their food.  The variations made on even the same dish with the same ingredients on hand, baffles the mind.  Through seasoning control, technique, and ingredient choice, the chefs’ dishes offered a mix of different tastes and personalities.

Chris Green of Central State's Sodexo checks
 the myriad of dishes in the oven.

            It is hard not to help the chefs when one observes the class.  The smells and sounds that fill the kitchen make it very difficult to resist diving in to help.  However, when the food is done and plated, few can resist the chance to take a taste of the different foods that the chefs have created.  One gets to fully realize the skills of the chef when one tastes the spicy chicken, smoked pork loin, sweet barbeque sauce, savory chicken, fresh herb potatoes, sweet chicken, garlicky potatoes, sweet green tea sauce, tangy cole slaw, and flavorful vinaigrette, one realizes the immense techniques of all the chefs.  Moreover, in an effort to maintain a learning kitchen, the chefs give constructive criticism on each dish that they try as the chefs share their food with everyone.  Most of the comments are very positive; however, suggestion can only make a dish better.  Hungry now?
   Chicken stuffed with pepper jack cheese.

Once all the food has been cooked and tasted, the class would not be complete without a group clean up.  Many of the chefs clean throughout the cooking time.  However, each chef is responsible for cleaning their work area and the dishes that they all used.  No one complains when it is time to clean.  The chefs accept it as a necessary duty after a job well done.
            The culinary class held at Sugartree Ministries is definitely an experience for anyone who likes food.  Moreover, the talent, comradery, and opinions shared are invaluable for anyone who likes to cook.  I personally cannot wait until I visit the class next to see what else the chefs have under their hats and up their sleeves.

No plate is complete without presentation.

For more information about the Culinary Job Training Class please contact Food Distribution Coordinator, Jessica Braun, at 937-382-6661 ext 488.

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