Establishing a strong local food culture has been on my radar for years, and based on the increasing prevalence of locally-owned restaurants and other food-related businesses, our region is gaining momentum.
Many factors contribute to our growing local food economy, and since the 1980s, Ivy Tech has been a big one. Through its Hospitality Administration Department, it offers the area’s only culinary program, providing students an opportunity to study culinary, baking, and pastry arts, and it has been churning out talent.
Almost everywhere you look, you can find Ivy Tech’s influence in our city. Here’s a short list of businesses owned and operated by people who graduated from the program: Emily Underwood, owner of Dash-In; Krystal Vega, owner of Zinnia’s Bakehouse; Debbie Smith and Sandra Wharton, owners of Vanilla Bean; Donna Kessler, owner of Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits; and David Tomaszewski, owner of Summit City Brewerks.
Jeff Bunting, program chair and a graduate of Ivy Tech, loves teaching and working with students to help them meet their goals. “At the beginning of the program, they have little confidence,” he says. “Typically, they don’t know how to properly use kitchen tools or understand terminology. By the end, they demonstrate a commanding understanding of both and that’s neat to see.”
Courses cover topics like basic food theory and skills, introduction to baking, meat and seafood, classical cuisines, catering, customer service, menu design, and nutrition.
Perhaps the most unique opportunity offered by the program is the special cuisines course, which gives students a chance to plan and execute a dinner that is open to the public. The school hosts eleven of these dinners throughout the spring semester. A few weeks ago, I attended the Middle Eastern cuisines dinner and spoke with Michael Harter, the student in charge of that night’s meal.
Harter is specializing in culinary arts, and after graduation in May, he plans to join the kitchen staff at Caruso’s in Angola. It’s no surprise the owners of Caruso’s, Liat Peters and Lisa Aldridge, are graduates of the program, as well. Harter enrolled at Ivy Tech after he was injured, and says he couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk for eight hours. Culinary school was a logical choice since he has always had a passion for helping his mom prepare meals, especially around the holidays.
The night of the Middle Eastern dinner, I found him bustling around the kitchen answering questions and tying up loose ends. He said he worked twelve-hour days the week leading up to the dinner, designing the menu, pricing and ordering the food, putting together the production list, and delegating duties to his classmates.
“It’s like running your own restaurant for the night,” Harter explains. “Earlier this week, I spent a day just polishing silverware and glasses.”
The menu he put together was thoughtful, interesting and most importantly, delicious. Here’s a sampling of what guests enjoyed:
Tabbouli Bites - bite-sized tomatoes filled with parsley and bulgar wheat salad
Tangy Chicken Fillo Rolls with Harissa Sauce- a light and crispy fillo roll stuffed with savory yet sweet pine nut filling and served with a chili sauce for dipping
Zucchini Salad with Raisins and Pine Nuts - tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette
Sweet and Sour Eggplant Salad - accompanied by tomatoes, mint and parsley
Fish Baked in Tahini Sauce - served with fresh lemon and parsley and accompanied by basmati rice with green onions
Sautéed Chicken with Jalapeno Cilantro Salsa - served with basmati rice, cumin and lentils
Lamb Pilaf - with rice, raisins, pine nuts and coriander
Milk Pudding- chilled creamy milk pudding with orange-blossom syrup topped with raising and pistachio nuts
Backlava- a rich, sweet pastry filled with walnuts and topped with vanilla syrup and sliced apples
These dinners offer our community a front row seat to the talent churning out of Ivy Tech, and there are still a few left this semester.
All dinners are hosted in the Hospitality Room on Ivy Tech’s main campus. The cost is $20 per guest and wine is available for purchase.
Reservations are required. Call (260) 480-2002. Check the website for more information, www.ivytech.edu/northeast/dinners.
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