A Chicago college and Ohio high school share their plans for returning to the culinary classroom this fall.
By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor
Protocol is one thing a chef understands. A plan that describes what people will do in certain situations. It takes a portion of the uncertainty out of that situation. As culinary education programs begin to reopen this fall, it’s this protocol or plan of action that faculty and students alike are relying on.
A few universal parts of gradual reopening plans include all staff, faculty and students donning masks and socially distancing themselves whenever possible. There will be temperature checks and frequent hand washing. These few tactics are familiar and basic no matter the location. Let’s take a closer look at two culinary programs, Kendall College and the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, and see their plans and protocols for returning to instruction.
Leigh Uhlir, Program Director, Kendall College, Chicago
The Kendall College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program offers associate's and bachelor’s degrees and prides itself on producing professional chefs ready to cook in professional settings utilizing professional equipment. When the college shut down last spring, like every other program, they moved to all-digital instruction model. It was during that time the college realized they are not a fully, online culinary school. Leigh Uhlir explained the school could not ensure each graduate mastered the program’s stated outcomes without seeing and tasting a student’s work. However, COVID-19 was ensuring that being back in the classrooms 100 percent of the time was not going to happen.
That’s when the work started redefining and restructuring the curriculum with an eye toward a hybrid instruction option, some classes online and some in-person classes. Uhlir said it was quickly determined general education classes and other classes like math and cost accounting would be better suited for online classes. However, with partial reopening and a reduction in the number of students permitted at one time and in the lab, Uhlir and her team set upon deciding what outcomes would be taught in the college’s labs and what students would be responsible for working on in their homes.
Illustrating for students what they were receiving in this new educational environment and not what had been lost was a strategy Uhlir and her team decided on from the start. This theme permeated their decision making. For instance, they changed their learning models from days to topics so students were not constantly reminded that days in the classroom were taken away. All instructor syllabi reflected this change too.
The summer was spent defining ways to inspire students in the current environment. Sure, students could take product home and work on knife skills, but the college could do more. From this the idea of food kits was derived. More than just a basket of mise en place, these kits challenge and inspire students. They look amazing and challenge the student to learn more about food and culture.
For example, for students 21 years and older, one class utilizes a Beer Kit to take home. The kit is filled with various beers for tasting, but also includes bags of barley, rye, and hops to taste, smell and feel. Uhlir explained they want to challenge all the senses in the learning process.
Another idea that was developed included inspirational cards that challenged students at home. In the Food Foundation class, a card asked a student to create a salad based on their favorite herb. The card asks questions about why the herb was added to the salad and what would happen if it was removed. Students were also required to document the process and record both the recipe and cost sheet. Uhlir explained this exercise not only inspires students but allows them creativity in the kitchen while following safety procedures.
Kitchen lab time was scheduled between in-person classes with an eye toward reduced student numbers and allowing time for enhanced sanitation measures. It was discovered the kitchens were available for a limited time on Fridays. In the spirit of students’ receiving new instruction, Uhlir and her team created free optional two-hour workshops offered on a first-come, first-served basis each Friday. Workshops like Artisan Bread Making and Thailand International Cuisine were created in an effort to return students some of the in-person instruction removed from the curriculum.
Tim Michitsch, Culinary Educator, Lorain County Joint Vocational School’s Culinary (LCJVS) Arts and Restaurant Management Program, Oberlin, Ohio
Tim Michitsch has taught for more than 30 years at LCJVS where he has witnessed many changes in the curriculum through the years. And, this year is again another time of change. His school’s administration decided on a gradual reopening with fewer students attending on-site classes between two and three days each week while the rest of the instruction occurs online.
Michitsch says that his students, which are hands-on learners, are very excited to be returning to the kitchen classroom. The beginning of the school year is a critically important time in developing his rapport with students. As a teacher, you want to create enthusiasm and a positive atmosphere to promote student learning he said. Students need words of encouragement when they complete tasks, so they are comfortable moving on to the next task. The part-time, in-class instruction makes developing that relationship particularly difficult.
In terms of the curriculum, Mitchitsch will use the “On Cooking” textbook he has used in previous years and will utilize MyCulinaryLab to complete written assignments. He is hoping to augment his digital instruction with KP Education Systems Culinary Arts curriculum.
Preparation and adaptation are important to everything one does in culinary arts, and the classroom is no exception. Michitsch is finding it challenging to prepare for both a hybrid structure as well as a worst-case-scenario all online structure as well. But, he is up for the challenge and said both he and the students will survive and make the best of the situation. He feels it’s important for the instructor to be extremely positive about the situation so the students are comfortable and accept it. He said that high school students will always follow the lead of their teacher.
While students are in the kitchen classrooms, Michitsch will have them gather mise en place items for specific recipes and take them home to prepare on off-lab days. He is also laying plans with Farmer Lee Jones, a local purveyor for The Chef's Garden in Huron, Ohio, to build ingredient boxes for students should classes return fully to online instruction.
Michitsch believes that rigorous culinary competitions are an important part of developing students. In fact, every year since 2003, he has advised a culinary or restaurant team that placed highly in either state or national competitions with two National Champions during that time. Even though culinary competitions will be virtual this year, he will continue to offer his students a chance to participate. He said he has noticed over the years that the students who participate in competition excel much quicker in the industry as competition gives them opportunities to gain additional skills and knowledge. So, even in the midst of the pandemic, Michitsch will be delivering classroom instruction and offering competition opportunities to teach and prepare his students for a life in the foodservice industry.
Editor’s Note: These reopening plans are accurate at publishing time. If we have learned one thing about this pandemic, it’s that it is fluid and unpredictable. These schools’ plans may indeed change again in mid- to late-August.