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Culinary capstones give students chance to take charge

The first cohort of culinary arts students completing a three-semester associate degree at Pennsylvania College of Technology recently put their skills to the test as each developed a full dinner menu – and served as chef de cuisine – in the college’s Le Jeune Chef Restaurant.

“I wanted the focus of this class to be preparing for what they’re going to do when they leave here, as opposed to what they’ve already done here,” said Chef Christopher R. Grove, executive chef of Le Jeune Chef and instructor of the Culinary Capstone course.

Pennsylvania College of Technology culinary arts students (from left) Alexis J. Muthler-Harris, of Williamsport; Charlie M. Suchanec, of State College; and Palin J. Hurst, of Gardners, consult during their Culinary Capstone course, in which each developed a five-course themed menu and served as chef de cuisine in the college’s Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, a live-learning lab for hospitality students that serves the public.
Pennsylvania College of Technology culinary arts students (from left) Alexis J. Muthler-Harris, of Williamsport; Charlie M. Suchanec, of State College; and Palin J. Hurst, of Gardners, consult during their Culinary Capstone course, in which each developed a five-course themed menu and served as chef de cuisine in the college’s Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, a live-learning lab for hospitality students that serves the public.

The students’ duties included developing a themed five-course menu, including determining cost, completing order sheets, making kitchen assignments to other students (and the class instructor), ensuring product quality on the night of service, and solving problems along the way.

“The whole idea of this class is that they get a sneak peek of what it’s going to be like in industry,” explained Grove, shortly after having the night’s student-in-charge taste and approve the dish he was making. “They are answering questions and putting out fires.”

Students took the opportunity to simultaneously honor their roots and to step out of their comfort zones.

Alexis J. Muthler-Harris, of Williamsport, chose a Southern-themed menu that included deep-fried Cajun deviled eggs.

“I was making a bold move with that,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was going to turn out, but they were good! They were better than regular deviled eggs.”

Palin J. Hurst, of Gardners, chose a gastro pub theme.

“Everywhere I’ve worked I either worked in pubs or fast-paced places,” he said.

One of his favorite menu items was a “bacon bomb burger” on a brioche bun with homemade bacon jam, pickled red onions and Gouda cheese. The class ground its own meat for the burger, incorporating lamb, and made the bacon jam.

“I’d had some (jam) that I bought, but I wanted to do my own,” Hurst said. “I love that stuff. It was bangin’.”

He said he learned that he can be more flexible in the kitchen, not always sticking to exact measurements.

“You can kind of be yourself with food and add your own flair to things,” Hurst said.

Charlie M. Suchanec, of State College, presented a Slovakian menu reminiscent of the Christmas Eve dinner his family shares each year.

He even included the “infamous soup I can never eat because I don’t like it.”

What he was excited for was a pierogi course.

“They’re kind of Slovak-style burger pierogis with ground pork, Hungarian peppers, onions and garlic,” Suchanec described.

“It’s a lot more open,” he said of the capstone course. “It gives you freedom. In other classes, they give you the menu and tell you what to make, but this gives you the freedom to do what you want to do.”

He felt prepared to take on the task, he said, adding that a few semesters ago, he wouldn’t have been able to.

“We tried to incorporate all areas of the program and included them into a course that would showcase every aspect of what makes a chef into a great chef,” said Chef Frank M. Suchwala, associate professor of hospitality management/culinary arts, who collaborated with Chef Todd M. Keeley, assistant professor of baking and pastry/culinary arts, to write the course abstract.

Among its goals is to allow the students to practice and implement various stages of running a professional kitchen at a managerial level.

During the last week of the class, students received career search guidance, including resume-writing skills.

“I am very proud of the students, who succeeded under the rigors of a three-semester schedule,” said Suchwala, who also serves as lead faculty for baking and culinary.

Penn College offers three-semester associate degrees and 12-month certificates in culinary arts, as well as baking and pastry arts. All can be continued toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration or applied management. To learn more, call 570-327-4505.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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