Culinary Students Provide Elegant Lunch

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

A cohort of more than a dozen students beleaguers him. The students’ eyes eagerly focus on every move, every cut and every turn he makes. They follow every step and watch as he swerves the pan, decants the pasta, slices the bread and aranges the peppered meat.

The noise of simmering beans, boiling fluids, assembling plates and shouted commands fill the huge, silver-steel kitchen. Every student is quick to assist, reach for a plate, rearrange saucers or bring a last ingredient to the chef.

“Go, go! Servers, out!” called chef Anthony Battaglia with a firm but melodic Sicilian accent to the crew of waiters who eagerly hurry out.
Outside the door, the guests are seated in GCC’s elegant Los Robles dining room. Claret red rose buds quietly swim in glass bowls centered on each of the round white tables.

“It’s first class. It’s incredible,” said Ken Larsen, who recides in Glendale. “We had eaten here last week and we’ll probably come back.”
Every Wednesday students and faculty of GCC’s culinary arts department cater a three-course lunch that is open to the public for a cost of $7.95. “It’s as good as any restaurant,” said businessman Jim Somers.
On March 9, the food department’s cooks served Farfalle Alfredo Pasta, Pork Sausages alla Pizzaiola, Macedonia di Frutta and Sicilian Focaccia Fine Herbs together with coffee and iced tea.

“Mr. B. is not a cook, he is an artist,” said culinary arts major Jose Gutierrez of chef Battaglia. “He teaches us to make mouthwatering, eatable arts.”

This fall, Gutierrez will be part of the new $300,000-grant program that is meant to encourage Hispanic community college students to obtain agriculture-related degrees.

“Only 13 to 14 percent of people in management are hispanic, while most low income jobs in the hospitality industry are taken by hispanics,” said Grant Director Andrew Feldman.

Currently, food services and hospitality presents the fastest growing career, Feldman said. Likewise, more people are buying food prepared outside the home rather than preparing it at home, he said.

“Also, food [carriers] in tourism and travelling have changed,” said Culinary Arts Department Chair Yeimei Wang. “Today when you take an exotic tour to the desert of Africa, you can have cocktails and delicious wines served in a tent with roses.”

Since its start in 1975, the department has grown greatly, adding five new offices and a “huge pantry” last month.

At present, the department focuses on four different components: culinary arts, restaurant management, hotel restaurant management, dietian service supervisor and catering.

There are several types of students interested in taking culinary art classes. Some are already working in the food industry and want to update their skills or move up to management and earn a diploma. Others are career explorers, or they simply come to learn how to cook better.
“I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” said Joanna Celeste while she carefully squirted the cream into the desserts’ cream puffs, her first lab project. She works full-time as a translator, but is thinking about majoring in culinary arts.

Today, having a background in food service is “not just flipping burgers or filling orders,” said Feldman. People with a background in food service have different carrier opportunities like marketing, computer science or human resources in any food related business.
For training purposes, GCC’s more than 500 culinary arts students cater different events on and off campus throughout the year.

On March 5, they served 173 guests at the Atlantic hall of fame celebrating former GCC athletes. A few days later they arranged a lunch for the math and English departments’ grant reception.

This semester the department will offer “Commercial Food Preparation,” “Culinary Concepts” and an “Advanced Wine Class” for the first time, where students actually sample the wine; they must be 21 in order to take the class.

“GCC has been fun to work with because one can be so creative here,” said Wang.

A spring project will be the planting of an herb garden that surrounds the Los Robles building. “Land is valuable around here and so we’re going to use it to plant mint, chives, thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley and bay leaf which you use for spaghetti sauce,” said Wang, who was a nutritionist in restaurants and hospitals before she came to Glendale College 30 years ago.

The culinary arts department’s nutrition classes are “general nutrition” and for culinary arts majors “diets therapy” and “nutritions and menu planing”. During the latter portion of the class, students have projects like taking a cake recipie and modifying it “to make it a healthier cake,” said GCC dietian and instructor Sona Donayan-Avedikian. At the end of the semester, they also pick out restaurants’ menus and write a review on it.

“I had a personal issue with weight and nutrition,” said Donayan-Avedikian. “So I began to study nutrition myself. I liked it and now it is a passion.” During her Monday class she shows her students this month’s L.A. marathon medal which she won in five minutes and 41 seconds, a time that is above average for female participants. “It is such an experience,” said Donayan-Avedikian.

The department is now introducing new dishes to its Wednesday lunch. Additionaly, as “little fun project,” the beginning Food Preparation 111 class will be giving away free cupcakes for anybody whose birthday is on a Wednesday.

“Just call us early in the morning and we’ll provide you with a cupcake,” said Wang.