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Culinary Instructors Get Creative to Teach Through COVID

When COVID-19 sent everyone home and Ivy Tech classes went online, some instructors had to get creative in how they taught the hands-on portion of their classes. Programs such as culinary arts, HVAC, and agriculture often teach skills that are learned by the students practicing and getting feedback from the instructors in real time. We want to take a moment to highlight some of Ivy Tech South Bend/Elkhart’s innovative instructors whose dedication to their students was obvious as they came up with innovative ways to teach remotely.

Chefs Brent Spring and Chris Pitt rarely sit down. They are always walking around the class, making sure students are using proper knife techniques or explaining how to get the perfect caramelized sugar top on a crème brulée. Having to teach students the finer points of cooking and baking is hands-on work, demonstrating techniques for students. When everyone went to online learning, they had to be innovative to make sure their students were still getting the high-quality culinary education that Ivy Tech is known for.

One way they did this was to assemble boxes for each student for the “recipe of the week.

” Each box contained all the ingredients and cooking utensils that the student would need for that week. Students would drive to the school and open their trunks. Brent and Sara, the purchasing assistant, would put the box in the trunk, wave to the student, and the student would drive off, never leaving their car. When class time came, the chef would work from their home kitchen and use cameras to show students what they were doing. Students would follow along at home, doing the same work, able to ask questions and get feedback from the instructor. The chefs would describe how the dish should taste and the students would give feedback on the taste of their project. After class, the students would wash the utensils and pack them back into the box and put them in the trunk of their car. The next week, Brent and Sara would remove that box from the trunk and replace it with the items needed for the next class.

A more difficult challenge was presented by the catering class. How would students learn catering when there were no events to cater? For this, Brent worked with the local Ronald McDonald House (RMH). RMH still had families staying there and meals needed to be provided for them, about 15 people per week. Students would develop a full menu for a meal at RMH, then prepare and deliver the meals; they created a theme for the meal and included everything – the entrée, side dishes, salads, and even dessert! Each student was responsible for one meal per week for RMH. It was a win for the students and for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House!

Because most restaurants were closed during this time, internships were difficult to find. Yet Cultivate Food Rescue, a non-profit in South Bend dedicated to fighting hunger and food waste, still had many families relying on them for food. Internship students spent their time at Cultivate, learning about nutrition and food needs for people in their community, then helped Cultivate provide food services for the community. Yet another innovative way to get students putting their culinary knowledge to use and learning new skills while also serving the community!

Each year the students participate in a chili cookoff as a fundraiser for the Northern Indiana Food Bank. While originally it looked like it was not going to happen, the Board of the American Culinary Federation South Bend Chefs and Cooks Association (ACFSB) once again figured out how to make it happen within the COVID guidelines. They planned to hold the virtual cookoff during the Clemson football game. Each participant’s chili was packaged into individual portions, and two servings of each chili were packaged together. People could go online to register in advance, then pick up their box of chili before the game. The pickup site was a local grocery store, so in addition to the people who had registered in advance, people shopping at the grocery store also had the opportunity to purchase a box. Participants then went online and were able to vote on the chilis and could see results in real time throughout the game. An event that didn’t seem feasible ended up raising over $2,000 for the Northern Indiana Food Bank.

While Chefs Brent and Chris had to be creative in order to support their students, they said it was also a great learning experience for the students regarding the culinary industry. It is an industry that was hard hit during the pandemic and many chefs, bakers, and restaurants had to be innovative in order for their business to survive. Students learned the importance of being able to adapt and change, which is something that will serve them well throughout their careers.

Thank you to Chefs Chris and Brent and all of our culinary department instructors for their dedication to our students! We truly appreciate you.

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