Crash Course Culinary Student

It’s a two-year program where students of all skill levels practice one passion. Making food. And they do it at NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City. 

The soon-to-be chefs follow a curriculum that teaches knife skills to dining service in the restaurant class. And the journey all begins in the classroom. I start my abridged program in Introductory Baking.

Here students learn cookies, pastries, tarts, breads and beyond. I get my first lesson on baguette making. 

We cut and scale the dough, then shape them into rounded slabs. I’m helped by Fred Laughlin, Director of the Culinary Institute. 

“Bread is very merciful. you can actually just start all over with it which is nice.” Yet another reason to love bread.

When all’s risen and baked, these first year students will leave with heavy homework, too.

“A lot of times they will just take it home. They bring a basket and take it home. Bring it back to the dorms.” 

Don’t you wish you’d lived with a culinary student in college? 

Come second year, every product goes out to their teaching restaurant, Lobdell’s. And that includes pastries at the lamination station.

“Lamination always refers to the higher number of layers.”  Chef Instructor Mike Skarupinski explains. “The single book folds and the double book folds, because they encase everything around butter.”

In the syrup room, students make post lunch chocolates and within five days they’ll rotate to another station. We stop in at the desserts where student Kathryne Ianni is making Napoleon. It’s scratch made puff pastry (lamination!) layered with Bavarian cream then topped with fondant and chocolate. It’s the palace of dessert real estate. I ask Kathryne how many times she’d made it before. 

“That’s my second time,” she laughs. But you’d never guess. 

Across the hall is another second year class called Garde Manger. It’s the practice of cold foods like charcuterie, fermenting and even ice cream.

Chef Instructor Bob Rodriguez gives us the rounds.

“This is a really great machine. This will spit out two quarts of ice cream every five minutes.”

And the flavors are limitless.

“This is the best part of class,” one student smiles as she hands me a spoon. I try the porter ice cream and taste the rich, slightly sweet and most definitely beer-y flavor. 

But then the tasting doesn’t stop. Chef Bob and his students feed me everything in sight from sausage, kombucha, to even kimchi. 

But as for the grade, how are the students evaluated?

“Because taste can be very subjective, how do you go ahead and grade a student?” I ask Chef. 

 “Yes yes you’re right. But I have very objective taste buds. I understand some people like more salt than others. some people can take more heat than others. I take that all into consideration.”

In their final semesters the students take on Lobdell’s, crafting the plates and serving them too.

“This is the only class that they actually spend anytime serving,” explains Ms. Patty Huhta, Front Of House Coordinator. “And they usually dread it. This is culinary school! But in that time we’ve actually made some servers after all is said and done.”

When it’s show time, the students take their positions in the front and back of house. The guests flood in, admiring the bakery selection and the gorgeous view over West Grand Traverse Bay. Soft music fills the dining room and the trays move swiftly to and from the kitchen line. And just like that, it’s another meal in the books.

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