Thursday, August 16, 2012

Culinary Students Learn Real-World Skills at Professional Kitchens

The bachelor’s degree program offers hands-on experience at off-campus locations ranging from the vegan restaurant Sutra to FareStart’s culinary program for the homeless.

Elizabeth Lipman chops vegetables in the whole-foods nutrition kitchen.
Elizabeth Lipman, whose practicum is at Forest Ridge School, chops vegetables in Bastyr's whole-foods nutrition kitchen.

Bastyr’s nutrition and culinary arts students are making their mark on some of the region’s most talked about restaurants and schools through the program’s culinary practicum.

Each fall, second-year students build on the skills they’ve learned cooking nutritious, delicious meals in Bastyr’s whole-food nutrition kitchen with a 66-hour practicum in a nearby professional kitchen, as well as 18 hours in the Bastyr Dining Commons and an additional four hours catering on campus.

“The students get plenty of experience cooking in the nutrition kitchen, but the practicum gives them exposure to bigger-quantity cooking and turning food out at a fast pace,” says Cynthia Lair, BA, CHN, curriculum director for the Bachelor of Science with a Major in Nutrition and Culinary Arts. “It also gives them a chance to interact with professional chefs and others in the field.”

Rachel DaviesRachel Davies, who starts her practicum this fall at Café Juanita in Kirkland, is looking forward to working with James Beard Award-winning Chef Holly Smith, who made a national splash when she defeated Cat Cora on “Iron Chef” in 2010.

“I love Café Juanita and their whole philosophy about food,” Davies says. “Sourcing local ingredients while maintaining an Italian cuisine is an important part of their menu, which I look forward to getting more exposure to while working there.”

She admits she has other plans than full-time restaurant work with her culinary degree, but she believes the experience would be invaluable to any graduate of the program.

“You learn so much about food, presentation, the flow,” Davies says. “It would really help a student out no matter what realm of food they hope to work in.”

When a Practicum Becomes a Career

But for some students, their practicum becomes a career-changer.

Ashley Wiegman, BS ('12) works at TASTE restaurant.When Ashley Wiegman, BS (’12), started her practicum last fall at Seattle Art Museum’s TASTE restaurant, she also wasn’t planning on pursuing a restaurant career.

“I hadn’t tried working at a restaurant, so I thought, why not do my internship there?” Wiegman says. “Once I got to TASTE, I realized how helpful everybody was and I just really like their company and mission. Even though we do things on a commercial scale, we still follow the Bastyrian way using local and seasonal foods.”

When her practicum ended in December, she stayed on part time and now works full-time after graduating in June.

“It’s very high-stress environment, but it’s a good stress,” Wiegman says. “You’re constantly bettering yourself and the product you’re putting out.”

She notes she’s even creating her own dishes, including a vegetarian pizza that is on the new menu.

“They’ve really started to value my input,” she says. “I’m ecstatic I have one of my own creations on the menu.”

A Focus on Organic, Local Whole Foods

Since the two-year culinary arts program was introduced in 2009, the practicums have turned into full-time jobs for a handful of graduates, while others have used the experience to go down their own paths, such as Big Spoon Jam creator Tina Guadan Fogall, BS (‘10).

“Some of them seem to really find their own way,” Lair says. “All of the graduates so far are doing so well.”

It helps that the vendors where students complete their practicums follow a similar approach to Bastyr by focusing on organic, local food that’s minimally processed. The vendors for fall 2012 include:

“I try to offer a wide variety of placements to give students many different opportunities,” Lair says.

More than Just a Prep Cook

There were so many good practicum choices that culinary arts student Elizabeth Lipman said she had a hard time choosing her top picks.

“I would have been happy with any of the practicums,” she says. “There were so many great options.”

But she’s thrilled to be working at Forest Ridge School, where Chef Ron Askew and his kitchen staff prepare fresh, wholesome food for the private school’s nearly 500 students and faculty.

“I think childhood nutrition is so important,” Lipman says. “Plus I know I’ll learn a lot there and not just be a prep chef. Chef Ron will want me to learn as much as I can.”

As a practicum partner since the beginning, Askew has already had so much success with Bastyr’s culinary arts students that he’s hired alumna Sasha Selden, BS (’11), as his current sous chef, and two previous students also have been employed with him after their practicums.

“The people at Bastyr are so nurturing,” Askew says, “they’re just a perfect fit for the community at Forest Ridge.”

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