Cooking for Success
Culinary Pathways brings high class dining on a budget
by Mark Nycz
The culinary program, also known as pathways, allows students to experience the complete ins and outs of the restaurant industry. During their time in the program, students cook, learn how to mix drinks and acquire house management skills that will serve them in their future careers.
In a glass room on the North Campus of Illinois Central College, student’s walk around knives in hand, blood on their clothes. These aren’t students filming a scene for art class, but students of the culinary arts program. Located in the Dogwood Building, the kitchen utilized by students rivals a state of the art one you would find in a NY restaurant.
“It’s a regular kitchen but in an educational environment” said Chef Charles Robertson, the associate professor and culinary chair at ICC.
The culinary program, also known as pathways, allows students to experience the complete ins and outs of the restaurant industry. During their time in the program, students cook, learn how to mix drinks and acquire house management skills that will serve them in their future careers. Outside of the kitchen, students participate in class learning theory related to food, as well as practical business skills that include food display, and cost control. Robertson, in discussing why students choose ICC states, “A sauté is a sauté, no matter where you go, we teach those same skills that the private culinary schools teach but we do it at community college pricing and with a community college mentality.”
The first thing a student learns when venturing into the world of culinary arts, sanitation. “We don’t want to kill anybody.” said Robertson, with a laugh, as he discusses the importance of sanitation and why students must learn it before stepping foot into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, students go on to learn how to handle and use knifes along with the history of culinary classes as well.
One unique class offered is Front of the House, or FOH. During this course students will be working outside the kitchen and will learn to interact with customers and gain the experience of working from a server’s point of view.
“It’s a very different world to be serving to customers and having that personal interaction versus being behind the line with only back of the house interaction.” Explains Chef Pyle, an instructor in the Culinary Arts program, “Most students are excited about taking FOH, but there is always at least one student who is miserably forced into this awkward interaction.”
Both classes team up to critique not only the taste of the food but also how it is plated and presented to the customer. Using what they learned during these taste-testing sessions, students then go on to operate an actual restaurant at the North Campus. Lunch style meals are offered during the fall, Dinner during the Spring sessions. There are 12 tables open to the public that require advance reservations for dining. The restaurant is operated like any other, students take orders, answer questions, and serve drinks. This is a unique opportunity for culinary students to learn how to interact with the public while gaining a broader understanding of the restaurant business. As their is no specific menu, a student must be knowledgeable of all the day’s offerings, including desert to be able to recite them to the customer.
The culinary pathways program is designed not only to teach cooking but to prepare a student for the world after college. If a student does not show up in proper uniform, they are sent home, receiving a failure for that day’s session. The program is run with military precision in order to prepare them for the sometimes harsh reality of the food industry. Former ICC student Chef Kristen Delbo, talks about her challenges in the student kitchen and how the Chefs drove her skills. “Chef Keith” Delbo said, “He is one that pushes you to your limits and he will push you past your limits, as long as he knows you can handle it”. The pressure from the instructors at ICC helped Chef Delbo excel in her culinary skills. “This is wrong, do it over. I know you can do it better,” said Delbo as she talks about how instructor Chef Keith helped push her along her journey.
Even with a background in culinary and a dad as a Chef, Delbo knew she had to attend to school to improve her skills and help her succeed. She choice ICC for the simple fact that she didn’t want to leave home, along with some encouragement from the chef she worked for at the time. “ICC was a good base for starting but you learn more in the field.” Said Delbo as she looks back on her time at ICC. After completing the culinary pathways at Illinois Central College, Delbo now works as a sous chef and runs the front of house for a local eatery while also running her own business.
For those who love to cook but aren’t ready for the full pathways program, ICC also offers non credited cooking classes as part of their Adult Community Programs. Taught by the Chefs on staff, non students are able to sign up for and learn about a particular area of cooking, whether it be baking or perhaps a specialty like the taste of Ireland. “We have so much to offer out here at North in general, and I’m so happy to see we utilize it more and becoming that second hub of ICC.” Said Chef Robertson as he talks about the wide range of classes and services the North Campus has to offer to students and the local community as well.