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Culinary arts programs, students adapt to changing food industry

Culinary arts programs, students adapt to changing food industry
Posted at 7:13 AM, Dec 16, 2020

CLEVELAND — The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the food industry and how customers enjoy meals from their favorite restaurants. But, that also means culinary arts programs across the country have to change with the times.

In Chesterland, students enrolled at the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute, or iCASI, are back in the kitchen after months of virtual learning.

"We are in the business of muscle memory of our students being hands on and smelling, feeling and tasting the food. So that was a great challenge for our instructors," said Stefanie Paganini, the executive director of iCASI.

Paganini said iCASI has implemented several safety protocols inside their classrooms and kitchens to ensure everyone is safe while on campus but added that virtual learning taught students a valuable lesson about food.

"It was lovely actually, because it gave them the skill of being more articulate of about food - having to find the words to describe flavors and textures," she said.

Students enrolled in the trade school usually test their skills in the kitchen by preparing meals for the restaurant on site and bringing in items they cooked or baked at home. Paganini said much of that has been put on pause, but they're working to prepare to-go orders as a way to keep up with the current trends in the food industry.

"As a restaurant chef, your goal is to make that food perfect for the three minute walk to the table. Now, with so much takeout, high end dining wasn't necessarily designed for takeout food, so chefs have to become innovative on how is that steak going to be perfect when it's sitting in its own steam for 20 minutes on your car ride home," the executive director said. "So we are making sure we've changed some of our curriculum, so students are practicing takeout methods. So that's something that they can offer when they get out into the field as well."

Much like the students at iCASI, students enrolled in the culinary arts program at Cuyahoga Community College are used to cooking meals four days a week for the 14-table restaurant located on campus, however that has been closed. But instead of pressing pause, students in an advanced culinary class prepared meals and took them to St. Malachi’s Back Door Ministry twice a week. Plus, they partnered with local religious organizations to feed those in need.

"They teamed up with the Catholic Center where the students were cooking lunch for 125 people each time," said Karen Monath, the associate dean of Tri-C's program. "It teaches them something far more important than culinary arts."

Both Paganini and Monath said instead rather than letting students walk away from the food service industry, they're prepping them for the rush of people going back

"Yes, there are a lot more challenges in a pandemic environment and coming back from a pandemic environment, but I think the personality type that loves food loves a good challenge," said Paganini.

"I think for our students, our current students and any students contemplating it, it's going to be wide open," said Monath.

Though many aspects of their programs have changed, Paganini said it's preparing students to be innovative and creative.

"Everything that happens in life is a potential lesson on how to do things differently, and so we are really embracing that as best you can. Right? Glass half full," she said.

You can order food from iCASI to celebrate New Year's Eve at home. Click here for more information.