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Students Contribute to Success of ‘You’re the Chef’ TV Series

(From left) Rachel S. Hall of Altoona%3B Christine L. Faherty of Wantage, N.J.%3B and Jennifer R. McHenry of Lock Haven.Select students at Pennsylvania College of Technology gained experience this summer helping on the set of “You’re the Chef,” an award-winning cooking series that airs nationally on public television.

“Not only does ‘You’re the Chef” serve the public, but it also enhances the educational experience for several Penn College students,” said Tom Speicher, show co-host and Penn College’s broadcast productions coordinator.

Helping on and off camera with the production of the series’ seventh season were Mark A. Blanchard, Watsontown; Christine L. Faherty, Wantage, N.J.; Rachel S. Hall, Altoona; and Jennifer R. McHenry,Lock Haven.

Mark A. Blanchard of WatsontownBlanchard, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Communications Management, served as the show’s marketing assistant.

Blanchard, a junior, also worked with “You’re the Chef” last year. Blanchard created a large advertising display for the show that is placed at the entrance to Wegmans Food Market in Williamsport. He also took behind-the-scenes photos that are used on the series’ Web site, in display advertisements and in any other printed material “You’re the Chef” produces.

“In addition to the still photos, I got to do video for the show,” Blanchard said.

While he is studying print media, he jokingly mentioned his interest in learning to operate a video camera. WVIA, the public television station that produces the series, brought in an extra camera and put Blanchard to work behind it.

“That was probably one of the most fun things I’ve done,” he said.

Blanchard also expects to see 12 to 15 of his still photos in the show’s media kit. This year, the kit includes a DVD that will be sent to PBS stations all over the country in hopes that the stations will air “You’re the Chef.”

The DVD is packaged inside an eight-panel brochure, for which Blanchard developed a preliminary design. After determining what would be included in the media kit, Blanchard was given the responsibility to work out all the details. He found a DVD-offering company and negotiated the pricing.

Hall, a junior who is pursuing both a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Technology and an associate’s degree in Dietary Manager Technology, served as the series’ production assistant.

This was her second year working for “You’re the Chef.” Hall helped the student interns prepare food and set up equipment, and she organized preparations for the next day’s practice or taping. She also shopped at Wegmans almost daily to buy all the food that would be used.

Faherty and McHenry, both pursuing double associate’s degrees in Culinary Arts Technology and Dietary Manager Technology, served as the show’s student interns.

As interns, they made behind-the-scenes food preparations and made sure everything on the set including serving dishes, food, ingredients, pots, pans and even the decorative flowers were ready and in the right place. They had to ensure that everything “You’re the Chef” co-hosts Chef Paul Mach and Speicher would need during the show was at their fingertips when taping began.

“We prepare all the food anything that needs to be cut, cooked ahead, portioned out, set up or organized. We do all the background work,” Faherty said.

Mach, assistant professor of food and hospitality management/culinary arts, said most cooking shows have a staff of professionals that do the same behind-the-scenes work that Faherty, Hall and McHenry perform. He said some of the larger shows, such as those seen on the Food Network, have staffs of 10.

“I think what’s interesting about “You’re the Chef” is that we do all those same things with three students,” he said. “A, they’re extremely important, and B, it’s amazing that they come to us with such good attitudes.”

The three culinary-arts students also appeared on camera, performing the show’s introductions and 45-second “Cooking Key” segments, which give additional pointers to the home cook.

Faherty, Hall and McHenry researched and wrote their “Cooking Key” segments.

“We’ve been doing the ‘Cooking Keys’ with the students for the last five years, and they have indeed continued to be an important part of what we do on screen,” Mach said.

The students received training this year from Dr. Sandra G. Lakey, an associate professor of English composition at Penn College, who gave them pointers for reading their lines and appearing more polished on camera.

“By having her professional opinion and helping us read our lines, I see a big difference between last year and this year,” Hall said.

The culinary-arts students also prepared lunch each day, creating their own dishes. A recipe Hall created for lunch last year for braised veal was cooked by Mach on a “You’re the Chef” episode that will air in the new season.

The students have also taken trips to shoot off-camera footage including visits to two farms and to promote the show. At the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen, N.Y., the culinary-arts students and Mach demonstrated recipes.

Faherty, Hall and McHenry share an interest in food that began long before they enrolled in Penn College’s Culinary Arts Technology major.

Faherty said that, as a child, she enjoyed playing with food, watching cooking shows and following her mother around the kitchen.

“After a while, my mom caught on and quit cooking dinner,” she said, and Faherty took over.

In her junior year of high school, she started working at Granny’s Pancake House in her hometown, where she now takes on several roles.

“That interested me in the food business,” Faherty said.

After graduation, she hopes to spend time working in the kitchens of big-city restaurants before settling down to work at an institution.

“I’ve learned so much, working with Chef Paul, about culinary arts. There are so many skills I acquired through working with him,” she said.

Hall’s grandfather owned a small restaurant in Ebensburg, where she often attended family get-togethers. In high school, she got a job at a banquet-and-catering facility.

“I was part of the wait staff and really enjoyed it, so I wanted to get involved in the cooking aspect of hospitality,” she said.

Hall sees a correlation between the skills she is developing on the show and those she will use in her professional life.

“A job like this stresses organization, being on top of your game and perfection. And it’s just an interesting job to have,” she said, adding that working one-on-one with a professor is invaluable.

She said that, in her job on “You’re the Chef” she has to be prepared for last-minute changes. For instance, recipes sometimes have to be altered if an ingredient is not available at the grocery store on the day of taping.

Hall hopes to do more internships during her last two years of schooling and to work at hotels and on cruise ships to learn more about other aspects of the industry, but she eventually will look for a career in dietary management in a nursing home or assisted-living community.

“I’d like to use my cooking background to make the food more inviting,” she said.

McHenry also enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with her mother when she was small, as well as helping her father in the garden.

“I always had an interest in food, taking it from the garden and cooking it, start to finish,” she said.

She said the internship with “You’re the Chef” has allowed her to learn about television behind the scenes, and she has also learned a lot of cooking methods that she wouldn’t have used in class.

Like Faherty and Hall, she hopes to work on the institutional side of hospitality after graduation.

“I’ve always liked the idea of working one-on-one with staff and patients,” she said.

The culinary-arts students also helped edit recipes used on the show, making sure food terms are standard and directions are clear for a possible cookbook. After each taping, Blanchard photographed the prepared dishes to illustrate the book.

Blanchard said his work with “You’re the Chef” has given him the opportunity to use the skills he has learned in the classroom.

“Interaction with the professionals who really do the things I’m studying for a living has had the biggest impact for me,” he said.

“All four of this year’s interns were integral for the production of the series. We gave them tremendous responsibility and they met the challenge,” Speicher said. “I’m very proud of their contribution, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Interacting with the students and watching them put their education to work in support of “You’re the Chef” is one of the true joys of doing the series.”

“You’re the Chef” began in 1996 on local cable access in Williamsport. Two years later, Penn College collaborated with WVIA-TV, the PBS-member station in Northeast Pennsylvania, to mold the show into a public television series. Since going national in 2001, “You’re the Chef” has aired in nearly half the country, including all five of the nation’s largest markets.

“You’re the Chef’s” new season will begin in October on WVIA-TV and in November on public television stations across the United States. For more information, visit the show’s Web site, chef.pct.edu/.

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