By Erik Squire
After you graduate from college and you’re actually making enough money to go out to eat, you can look forward to some great food and terrific service. This is because SMCC is turning out some top notch culinary artists and professional servers. We at the Beacon heard such good things about the program and the food they create that we had to take a look (and smell) for ourselves. Chef Boardman and two of his fine students, Kayla Palmer, and Marissa Turmennc, filled the Beacon on some of the delicious details about the Culinary Arts Program.
Kayla had this to say of the program: When I came to this school I knew it had a good reputation about it. When I started here I didn’t realize how supportive the teachers were going to be. They all want you to be successful. They see all the potential in everyone. They are there to help you, support you and give you a mental boost. Chef Boardman also enthusiastically added “What we offer here is probably the best program in the state.”
Chef Boardman explained that they offer an associate degree in Applied Science over two years (sometimes a little longer). The things they teach are everything from soup to nuts. They learn how to butcher animals, bake ornate pastries, pies, and cakes. Students learn how to run a whole restaurant. The first year students learn how to make appetizers, soups, and bread. The seniors will do a whole production; there’s a dining room classroom which they use to serve and learn how to manage. There’s one class on Wednesdays and Thursdays where they serve five course meals. They offer an all you can eat buffet every Friday as well, where they display all their artistic food. They also offer a management class where students write a full project about how to run a business. Lastly, the teachers instruct students to get super involved in the community. Kayla added, “We go to events like harvest on the harbor where we help out and volunteer. It’s a great way to get our names out there, make connections, and represent the school.”
The three interviewees made it clear that graduating students have the skill to be employable. Chef Boardman pointed out that the program had a board that’s three quarters full of people in the area looking for students to work for them. He said “So if you can’t get a job at the end or even during the courses then there’s something drastically wrong.” He also stated; “We’ve been networking in the area for quite a long time and we’ve gotten a good reputation.” Chef Boardman mentioned that he gets E-mails quite frequently saying someone owns a restaurant or a business and heard of the program’s reputation. They then ask if he can get the word out for students to apply for their open positions. Chef Boardman reiterated; “There’s a ton of job opportunities.” “So now you have to change your major to culinary arts.” he teased.
When asked what some of the interesting things the Culinary Arts Program does annually, the interviewees had a lot to say. Each year Chef Broderick tries to facilitate it so that the students can attend the Chocolate lovers fling. It is a fundraiser to fight against domestic violence, and they host a competition with chocolate. Kayla added; “we have 6 awards for having some of the best chocolate in America.”
Chef Boardman talked about Harvest on the Harbor (which he pronounced in a Mainer’s accent): The participation was absolutely fabulous. On the night of the event there were eight of us on the stage. Each Chef was creating a different part of a meal for the 114 people sitting in the audience. The Chefs were decorating each meal with all the bells and whistles. On one of the days of the competition we produced 2000 samplings of wicked good chowdah (he jokingly pronounced it). It was some of the top Chefs from around the area and everybody got together to create this. That’s what Harvest on the Harbor is, it’s putting Portland’s name out there.
The fact that these top Chefs from the area came out to participate is no small deal. According to the interviewees, Portland is the number two food destination in the country. There’s one local restaurant that’s in the top fifties of Americas best new restaurants; it’s at number six. We also have a lot of James Beard award recipients in the area (these are like the Oscars of the food world).
One of the other interesting things that the program tries to offer annually is an educational trip abroad. Chef Broderick is planning a trip to Austria this year, it’s usually right at the end of the spring semester, and it goes for two weeks. It is a fully inclusive trip where they go to a cooking school and do small expeditions to the surrounding historic towns, cities, wineries, and cheese crafting places. They try to experience anything to do with the culture of the country. It’s about $3800 (half down by January) and students receive credits for it. The more people go, the lower the prices will be, so everybody’s encouraged to come. Chef Boardman stated that, “The people who come back, come back feeling like, wow, that was incredible.” Meals, accommodation, transportation, the whole works is offered. It’s a great deal.
On a more altruistic note, every year the Culinary Arts program also heads to the Barbra Bush wing of Maine Medical and builds gingerbread houses. They bring the frames and let the kids and their parents come out and build and decorate the houses. Kayla exclaimed; “It was really great, we helped a girl build a gingerbread house for her little sister, and she was about to get discharged from the hospital; an amazing experience”. Chef Boardman added, “It’s the highlight of their year there and all the nurses love it. It helps the kids but I think it helps the parents a lot more.” This beautiful effort is in conjunction with the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation (AFC), and they finance everything for that event. Chef Boardman said with a smile; “As a community college it’s one way that we give back to the community.”
The ACF also hosts a jeopardy style competition where SMCC and other schools compete to demonstrate how intelligent they are. The northeast and southeast colleges are coming together to compete in Baltimore, and SMCC has been joining them there for the last five years.
While on the topic of competitions, two of Culinary Arts’ outstanding students will be participating in the Almost Famous Chef competition. Kayla, one of the soon to be contestants, explained: So some people submitted a recipe to be judged and graded, my school partner and I both made it into the competition. We will go down to Boston in March will be competing against a large number of people to create a dish. The winner gets an apprenticeship with a famous chef. It was nice to know that my recipe was interesting, and that it was creative enough.
Lastly, Kayla wanted to lets student know about one more great detail: One thing I should add, if you ever want to have an awesome experience here, come on Wednesdays and Thursdays and set a reservation. For $14 you can have a five course meal including desert, and that is wicked cheap (compared to the $50-$100 going rates). It’s a great way for you to enjoy yourselves and for us to learn. We’ve got the best food in the area, the best view, and the service is really good too (well, after training week is over that is).