With a Pinch of Salt and a Dash of Heart, SFCC Culinary Arts Students Share Their Love of Food with Others
In the bustling kitchen of the Hotel Jacaranda restaurant, a culinary student pipes chocolate filling into a tray of empty pastry cups while another student mixes a spicy blend of seasoning that brings tears to the eyes of those standing near it. “That’s going to be so hot,” laughs Tim Hansen, professor, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. “What can we add to cut this down some?” he then asks, an obvious learning opportunity for his students.
“If we do something wrong, he doesn’t get down on us about it; he helps us learn how to fix it,” said first-year culinary arts student Dessire Vellon. “That’s one of the great things about Mr. Hansen and the culinary program.”
Anyone who has ventured into the hotel’s kitchen or has attended an event catered by SFCC’s Culinary Arts program knows that these students enjoy what they do. It shows on their faces as they cook and in their smiles as they share their finished product with others.
“I don’t know what I would be doing without the program,” Vellon said. “Probably just sitting in the same classes as everyone else. I think I’d be really bored.” She enjoys cooking for her family, and she took a culinary arts class in high school. “I thought I knew a lot before joining the program, but Mr. Hansen has taught me so much more that I didn’t realize I didn’t know.”
Like Vellon, the students in SFCC’s Culinary Arts program have a variety of backgrounds and experience. Some have owned catering businesses in the past, some come from working in chain restaurants where much of the food is frozen and pre-made, some have cooked most of their lives but only for their families and friends, and some have never had any type of food and beverage experience at all. SFCC’s culinary program focuses on the basics so that those with every level of experience learn the fundamentals of food preparation. Some of the topics the program covers are cooking temperatures, food presentation, soup and stock preparation, meat cutting, pastry, and European cooking as well as food cost and budget management skills, and the majority of instruction happens in the kitchen. “You can’t learn food and beverage in a classroom,” said Hansen. “The learning requires hands-on experience.”
To provide the most hands-on experience, the culinary arts program caters a variety of SFCC events each year. These events have included a chamber of commerce mixer, the SFCC Career Connection exhibitors lunch, special groups visiting the campus, the annual graduation dinner, SFCC Museum of Florida Art and Culture (SFCC MOFAC) receptions, and the program’s own student luncheons. The largest event the program has catered was an educators’ seminar for over 300 people.
Often, the variety of events calls for a variety of menus, and these students are prepared to cook just about anything that is asked of them. At a recent SFCC MOFAC artist reception, they served everything from mini hamburgers, to chicken empanadas, to duck while more reserved events, such as the graduation dinner, call for more reserved dishes like chicken marsala, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. “We don’t have a set menu that we cook for events. It’s up to what the client wants,” Hansen said.
Following the completion of the program, students often branch out into a variety of areas. Some go on to continue their training and specialize in a specific type of cooking, while others go on to work in hotels and resorts across the country. Many have opened their own restaurants and catering companies. Second-year culinary arts student C.J. Edmonson is in the process of opening a restaurant, Reiyna’s Fusion Cozinha, in Siesta Key. “Fusion cuisine is a blend of different types of dishes,” he said. “I plan on incorporating French, Caribbean, and Western style dishes into my menu.”
According to Hansen, hospitality is a $100 billion a year industry, and while most people consider hospitality to be restaurants, catering, hotels, and resorts, other areas require similar skills. “Hospitality and culinary workers are needed in hospitals, healthcare and residential living facilities, schools, and even prisons. It’s a big industry, and it continues to grow. This business is not for everybody, but our program is a reasonable cost compared to other high-end culinary schools, and it’s a good place to start if you are unsure about what you want to do,” Hansen said.
“The program has helped me re-establish my love of cooking,” Edmonson said. “I’d always cooked as a hobby, but my original career plan was to work in credit management. That fell through, and I entered the radiology program, but then I heard about SFCC’s Culinary Arts program and decided to give it a try. I realized it’s what I want to do.”
Even though each student has his or her own preferences in what they like to cook, they all seem to share a common sentiment. “Cooking involves a lot of creativity,” Edmonson said. “It’s a lot like painting a picture. It can be very abstract when you mix different flavors. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but there are just endless possibilities in what you can create.”