Last month’s meeting of the Southern Alleghenies Chapter of the American Chef Federation took place Dec. 14 in Chatter’s Café at the State College Area High School, and it wasn’t really clear who was prouder and happier to be there — the beaming chef instructor, Jeremiah Dick, or his three eager culinary students.
Dick paid close attention as freshman Enzo Sapia was introduced by senior Noah (“Biggy”) Keefer and junior Theo Mason, and each student described what they were learning that year in the program. Sapia, in Culinary 1, is learning safety and sanitation, knife skills and all about how to handle chicken. Keefer, in Culinary 4 — an independent study program where the student serves as a teaching assistant to the Culinary 2 and 3 students — explained how he would much rather be in the kitchen where he feels “at home” than in a study hall. His senior project will be to create his own restaurant in Chatter’s Café for one night, coming up with a concept, the recipes, finding staff and patrons. Mason is in the Culinary 3 program and is immersed in the International Food Project, studying Morocco, everything about its cuisine, geography and culture.
All three young men work in the industry — starting as dishwashers then moving to line cooks — and there was general consensus in the room that there is no better way to learn the food service business.
But the SCASD culinary program was only a small part of the evening’s agenda. Dick explained in great detail the Pennsylvania requirements for “Education in Secondary Culinary Arts,” a list of hurdles that he himself accomplished. He started in high school at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, where he graduated with a diploma in culinary arts before attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and getting a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management and an associate’s of occupational studies degree in culinary arts. He spent four years working in the industry — at Carnegie House, The Comus Inn and the Blairmont Club — applying his knowledge before teaching for a year at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology in Pleasant Gap.
When the position opened at SCASD in 2008, Dick was poised and ready. He teaches there full time and has a full-time sous/assistant. He also serves as an adjunct culinary arts instructor at Penn Tech in Williamsport.
Dick started his master’s degree in workforce education and development at Penn State in 2006 and spent eight years pursuing that advanced degree. His explanation of that process was clearly of interest to the meeting attendees that night. The multiple hurdles that he jumped included a competency assessment, vocational emergency permit, vocational intern certificate, new teacher workshop, the PRAXIS national exam, vocational instructional I and II certificates.
Heather McCloskey and Pam Kennawell, culinary instructors at the GACTC, and Renee Owens, as assistant culinary instructor from CPI, nodded often in sympathetic agreement, knowing that long road themselves.
The dozen or so attendees, from local food service operations or foodies who were interested in the topic, were treated to homemade potato chips and frosty iced tea at each table as well as a tantalizing buffet of dishes prepared by Dick’s students. The French onion soup, served with a toasted cheese crouton, showed that these students know how to make a delicious homemade beef stock. Hopefully they will take that knowledge to our area restaurants.
One of the week’s lessons was on brining and curing salmon, so gravlax on perfectly piped deviled eggs garnished with fresh dill and on delicate blini made sure that everyone got their Omega-3’s to stay alert through the evening’s discussion. Penne with pesto provided a main course for those who didn’t have time to eat dinner before high-tailing it to the 7 p.m. meeting.
The next meeting will take place 7-8 p.m. Monday at GreenSpace, a microgreens farm in Tyrone where the topic of the evening is “Microgreens for the Food Service Industry.” Anyone who is interested in learning more about microgreens or any aspect of the food service industry is encouraged to attend. You do not have to be a member of the ACF and there is no charge for the meeting. For more information, contact Zach Lorber at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. You can also check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs or follow them on Instagram: @acfsaca or Twitter: @acfsaca.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania, “ of several iBook cookbooks (”Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at chef firstname.lastname@example.org.