Thursday, September 21, 2017

Food Industry Leaders Provide Input for CVTC Program

Culinary Management faculty hosts Restaurant Week panel discussion

Article Photo - Food Industry Leaders Provide Input for CVTC Program

CVTC Culinary Management instructor Kevin Brown moderates a panel discussion on the needs of the local food industry and how the program can help. Panelists from left are Lynette Livingston, CVTC dean of business and academic services; Dave Challe, food and nutrition services director for Mayo Clinic Health Systems; and Nathan Berg, chef at The Lak

Kerigan Pawlak wanted to enter the culinary field when she graduated from Eau Claire Memorial High School in 2016. Unfortunately, she had to go first to the Twin Cities, then to eastern Wisconsin to begin her education. Now she’s looking forward to transferring to Chippewa Valley Technical College when its Culinary Management program starts next August.

“I’ve been at Fox Valley Technical College,” she said. “I’m thinking of going into baking and I don’t like driving three hours from home for school.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Pawlak attended a Restaurant Week panel discussion involving CVTC Culinary Management instructors Jonathan Fike and Kevin Brown and seven local leaders in the food industry to learn more about how CVTC’s program can prepare her for a career in culinary. Brown assured her there is room in the program for someone with her aspirations.

“Our job is to understand each of our students and where they want to go, and help them get there,” Brown said. “Our goal is not to make everyone a fine dining chef.”

The panel focused on education, both for students enrolling in the program and for the general public to better understand the industry as consumers.

Nathan Berg, chef at The Lakely, described how he has taken members of his staff directly to the farms that are the sources of the selections on the restaurant’s frequently-changing menu. “It’s nice to see the families that you are helping,” he said.

Berg, along with Amy Ann Huo, chef at The Informalist, spoke of how they focus on local food and want the public to better understand the farm-to-table relationships. “I am willing to spend the resources to learn and to teach my staff as well,” Huo said. “I try to instill in them a love of local food.”

“That’s the kind of excitement we want to get across to our students,” Brown added.

Huo noted that one of the challenges in the local restaurant industry is to educate people on why food costs what it does. “The farmers work really hard, and we work really hard, and we pay our cooks what they’re worth,” she said.

The panel touched on many issues within the industry. “We try to educate the world on better nutrition,” said Cindy Brown of Chippewa Valley Bean, a kidney bean producer that exports about 70 percent of its products all over the globe.

“Part of our program will be nutrition-focused, and I’m already thinking of ways we can get our students involved in Cindy’s company,” Brown said.

K.T. Gallagher, environmental health supervisor with the Eau Claire Health Department, spoke of efforts to have local food businesses see them less as inspectors looking to write citations and more of a resource to work with for the safety of the public.

“The relationship you have with the health department is crucial,” Fike said.

Listening to the needs of the area food industry is part of the job for Brown and Fike, who are already working full time in preparation for teaching the first students in the program next fall. Fike noted that from kitchen design to curriculum planning, there’s plenty to do.

“The mission of CVTC is to support the employments needs of the region. We looked at our program offerings and found we had a gap in the culinary and hospitality area,” said Lynette Livingston, executive dean of business and academic initiatives. “We’re very excited about this program and how it can contribute to the community. We’re hoping this will be one of our flagship programs at CVTC.”