The sparkling white floors and chrome counter tops of the instructional kitchen at Flathead Valley Community College got a dusting of flour and a splatter of oil as students donning their signature chef hats looked over their recipes for Wednesday’s lessons.
More than 3,200 square feet of modern appliances and instructional space lends itself to the hands-on education of students of all ages seeking a career as a professional chef under the hands-on instruction of their professors.
On one side of the kitchen equipped with a wall of ovens and stoves, first-year students of the savory cooking course prepared their ingredients, filling the space with scents of herbs and spices.
The day’s menu consisted of a medley of gourmet-style dishes, including Gitksan planked salmon with a berry barbecue sauce or cream saffron sauce, seared vegetables, clams with rice pilaf, roasted rack of lamb and bread pudding.
Clad in their checkered pants and white coats, the students bustled about the kitchen, keeping an ear out for the chef’s directions.
“Yes, chef,” they called back to their instructors.
Prior to entering the kitchen, they each prepared for the day with hours of assigned reading and note taking, participation in lectures and the creations of a production schedule.
Students separated into teams, each with a plan for how to tackle the number of components included in the recipe for the dish they were to present that day.
At one table, three students prepared their salmon, sauces and veggies, aiming to create a beautiful, well-cooked entree within their two-hour time-frame.
“We kind of know our strengths and weaknesses to compensate for anyone lagging behind,” said Eli Valadez, 22.
The trio worked in harmony, delegating tasks but assisting one another in executing their production plan as a whole.
“I think the biggest thing to learn is communication and time management,” said Valadez’s teammate, Hanna Troutt, 27, “because cooking of itself isn’t hard, but just managing it all together is tough.”
The trio presented their work and then devoured their creations, but across the room, one student faced a failed assessment after mixing up the ingredients in her salmon recipe.
Her professor, Chef Manda Hudak, encouraged her as she dumped her fish into the trash.
“This is what you’re paying for. This is why you’re here,” Hudak told the student.
According to Hudak, FVCC’s culinary program demands a lot of its students, taking their education beyond basic kitchen skills.
Students of the program delve into the cultural history as well as the different regional foods and culinary influences through their various classes. Additional culinary classes enhance students’ knowledge of service, hospitality, nutritional and international cooking.
“The benefit of this class I would say, compared to being in a technical school as opposed to the college setting, is that we’re broadening the culinary application,” Hudak said. “I like holding students to a standard bigger than themselves.”
Over the past year, the culinary program has undergone significant changes to its curriculum and the certificates offered, thanks to the influence of Program Director Shannon Hayashi.
Hayashi joined the culinary team in January 2018, bringing with him an extensive background as both a chef and educator at the Art Institute of Colorado for the past 16 years.
His goals for the program at FVCC were to create a more comprehensive curriculum for the established program, stretching the four-semester program into five semesters, and introducing the Advanced Baking and Pastry certificate.
He likened his position as an educator to that of the head of a family, comparing his students to children whom he hoped to see succeed.
“No matter how much skill you have, you have to be able to share it with students to take it and move on,” he said. “If you don’t pass that skill on then, to me, you are not a successful educator.”
Both Hayashi and Hudak feel their students should graduate from the culinary program with the basic entry-level skills to find employment within the valley and with the added culinary dexterity to learn new skills quickly and become experienced chefs.
Some graduates of the culinary program have returned, seeking to further their education on the other side of the kitchen.
Hoping to round out his skills as a chef, Logan Mansell, 24, returned to FVCC after graduating from the basic culinary program last December in order to pursue the new Advanced Baking and Pastry certificate.
Despite a busy schedule as a full-time student with two jobs, Haley Lindgren, 22, also graduated from the culinary program in 2017 but returned to complete the new baking program.
“I would like to own my own pastry shop here in the valley, and so with advanced baking and pastry, it’s going to further my skill,” Lindgren said.
“Food is all about the shared experience that you have, and by cooking, I get to give that experience to other people,” Mansell said.
Having traveled all over the world as a child in a military family, Mansell said his eventual goal is to own his own restaurant and, through it, be able offer authentic food from a variety of cultures.
Along with the critical knife skills, budgeting, respect for ingredients and the ability to take directions needed for any chef, Hayashi hopes to instill an overall sense of integrity and determination in his students as well.
“Any student who graduates from a college should be able to contribute ideally into their community,” Hayashi said. “That’s important.”
He stressed the importance of passing along his knowledge to his pupils in order to mold them into better chefs than himself.
Recent developments within the culinary program as a whole have included new outreach programs within the community and portfolio-sharing opportunities between local restaurant owners and graduating students. Hayashi also coaches local high-school students in cooking competitions.
For more information about FVCC’s culinary program, visit https://www.fvcc.edu/programs/arts/culinary-arts/culinary-institute-of-montana/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.