Culinary Debut Highlights New CVTC Year

Students started classes Aug. 27 in shiny new kitchen

Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Photo of Culinary Debut Highlights New CVTC Year

CVTC Culinary Management instructor Kevin Brown shows a rotating deck oven while giving a tour of the new state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. At left is new program student Judy Ewer, a Gilman native and former Lake Holcombe resident.

Judy Ewer of Eau Claire has waited nearly a year for classes to begin since first registering for the new Culinary Arts program at Chippewa Valley Technical College. Her wait ended Monday, Aug. 27 with the start of the new academic year.

Joanne Palzkill, owner of Draganetti’s Ristorante in Eau Claire and other restaurants, has been waiting years for the opportunity to hire more people trained in culinary arts who want to work in the restaurant business. She’s anxious for the first class of graduates.

The debut of the new Culinary Management program has been much anticipated at CVTC and the community. Strong urging and support from the restaurant industry led to the CVTC board’s approval of the program in November 2016. Instructors Kevin Brown and Jonathan Fike were hired in September 2017 and have spent nearly a year in curriculum planning, community promotion, and designing and setting up the kitchen and classroom facilities.

“It’s an excited nervousness,” Fike said about their anticipation of meeting their first class of students.

Brown noted that while both he and Fike have plenty of teaching experience, they haven’t taught for a year, and opening a new program brings a whole new dynamic.

“On Monday I’ll have 24 students staring me in the face expecting me to educate them,” Brown said a few days before the opening. “It’s like this is the first day of teaching all over again.”

But they are well prepared, and well equipped. The new kitchen that features 24 cooking stations, an international cookery suite, and a professional baking space shines with never-been used stainless steel equipment. A separate demonstration area can be used for interactive lectures and community education, or space for a small restaurant.

“CVTC’s new kitchen is unlike any in the Wisconsin Technical College System,” Brown said. “We’ve seen a lot of kitchens around the U.S., and there are a lot of extra experiences that students can get here that they couldn’t find anywhere else.”

“This is one of the premier kitchen facilities in the country for education,” Fike said. “The design of the kitchen itself is focused on education rather than production. It’s organized in six pods, and students will be working together, and everyone will have the same equipment.”

The facility makes use of electronic technology. High-definition video screens will allow students to observe close-up an instructor’s demonstration while seated in the classroom. “And we have the capacity to record demonstrations and publish them on the web,” Brown said.

Students will start getting acclimated to the facilities during the first few days of classes, and Brown and Fike intend to get to the teaching right away.

“Day one they begin working on certifications – the ServSafe certification and the state certification for their bartender’s certificate,” Brown said. “They will be licensed bartenders in Wisconsin after day three. On day one I’m going to show them how to make stock and on day two they will be making stock. We’re going to hit the ground running.”

“Our number one goal is to provide them with the same education that Kevin and I received, but at CVTC’s cost,” Fike said.

“We are setting performance levels for them at the same levels that we had. The people who will be hiring our graduates expect professionals,” Brown added.

Completing the two-year program leads to an associate degree, with certificates and diplomas earned at earlier stages.

Palzkill is anxious to hire graduates. “It’s no secret that it’s been difficult to find candidates who have been interested in a career in culinary,” she said. “We’ve had to find candidates willing to learn on the job. Having them come with some training and experience will be wonderful.”

Ewer is the type of person Palzkill hopes to see more of.

“When my kids were done with school, I was at a crossroads and was wondering what I wanted to do,” Ewer said. “It always came back to food.”

Last fall, Ewer heard about CVTC’s new program and saw the newly hired chefs taking part in local Restaurant Week activities. She applied, and is anxious to learn from people with such deep experience.

“This program will offer the hands-on training opportunities we are looking for,” Palzkill said. “This is exactly what we need.” Palzkill added that she expects intense competition in the industry to hire the graduates. That will put the graduates in a position to choose what they’d like to do.

“I would love to work with a nutritionist, perhaps in a wellness program or a medical facility, or in a restaurant that is in touch with allergens and special diet needs,” Ewer said.