Something’s cooking in the culinary arts kitchen

Home Features Something’s cooking in the culinary arts kitchen

Nancy Hamilton
The Corsair

Type “fine dining etiquette” in Google search and you will get almost 500,000 hits. That’s what I found out, anyhow, when researching for a Pensacola State College award dinner prepared by the culinary arts students.

Hearing it was a fancy dinner, I was worried about making an etiquette faux pas. I had a hazy memory of a vague rule about using cutlery from the outside in, or something like that.

I was glad I did the research, as I was dazzled by the plethora of sparkling glasses and cutlery as I approached my table. Who knew there were so many types of spoons and forks?

However, I was really looking forward to a wonderful dinner prepared and served by the culinary arts students, so I was willing to take the chance.

The special event in question was the 2011 Academy of Teaching Excellence award ceremony, held March 12 in the culinary arts school dining room on the Pensacola campus. To make the evening even more special, this year is the Academy’s 25th anniversary.

To earn this prestigious award, teachers are first nominated by faculty and students for their outstanding teaching and mentoring skills, and their impact on students and the community alike.

A board then reviews the nominations and chooses the final awardees. This year’s award winners are: Amy Compton Horner, Biological Sciences; Donna Mathias, Health Sciences; Mary Turner, Nursing; Karen Young, Nursing; Debra Ryals, English Communications; Stephen White, Health Science; and Travis Herr, Professional Services.

This night was doubly special for Herr, for he is also known as Chef Herr, the Culinary Arts Program Manager.

He may have been an awardee this night, but he also seemed to keep one eye out for his students in the kitchen and dining room. Herr has been in the culinary industry for more than 40 years, teaching culinary arts for 25 years, with the last nine at Pensacola State.

He enjoys working with the culinary program.

“It’s been a really gratifying experience, I have to say,” Herr said.

He has high expectations of his students, which they meet, having a 100 percent graduation and placement rate.
Very few culinary students aren’t working in the industry while attending classes, and he stresses to them that “you can’t be afraid of hard work” in this industry.

He is justifiably proud of his students and their accomplishments, and he didn’t hesitate to share his spotlight when he asked the audience to show their appreciation for the wonderful dinner provided by his students.

Those hardworking students perform the same duties for many college functions: award dinners, monthly Monday night showcases, luncheons, and any other requests from school groups or organizations.

They plan and execute each event down to the last fine detail, from menu planning to food preparation to serving to clearing the table and starting all over again.

The students are of all ages, and all walks of life. Yet they all have one goal – to learn all they can and eventually find their place in the food industry, whatever it may be.

David K. Dewberry, one of the student-waiters for this dinner, is a first year student in the culinary arts program and member of one of the college’s largest category of adult learner students – prior military. Dewberry retired after 20 years in the U.S. Navy as a Mess Specialist (that means “cook” in Navy-speak).

While he is very experienced running food services on a Navy ship, he said that the “civilian culinary environment and military environment are like night and day.”

He is confident, however, that he will finish his degree and then get his dream job as a Florida Compliance Officer.
When asked how long it takes to set a table for a formal dinner, with all the different glasses, cutlery and dishes, he said, “Less than ten minutes. You get a snapshot in your head of everything you need to do, then just lay it all out.” Just like that.

Happily, I managed to make it through dinner without any mishaps, thanks to advice from the Web and my understanding waiter. I even used the correct fork for my salad.

It was certainly an eye-opener to hear about all the wonderful teachers that received the Excellence awards. I’m afraid I stay too close to my own department, and I don’t get out much.

I learned two valuable lessons that night: I should pay more attention to other programs and organizations at Pensacola State; and I need to get invited to more of these wonderful culinary arts-provided dinners!

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