New space puts college classes on front burner

Iowa Central Community College has completed the expansion of its culinary arts school.

Formerly held at Willow Ridge Golf Course, culinary arts will now meet at the college’s Hanson Center. The college’s old cafeteria was remodeled to include a lecture hall, freshman and sophomore level kitchens, and a bakery kitchen, as well as hospitality area.

According to Chef Michael Hirst, the new classrooms will nicely accommodate the college’s 115-plus culinary students.

“All three kitchens will be used at the same time. While they’re baking here, they’re learning their knife skills in there and having a food safety lecture in the lecture room down there,” Hirst said. “It’s good because we did everything in one room before, so we were all waiting outside to teach the next class.”

In each kitchen and the lecture hall, demonstrations are shown across the room on flat-screen monitors. The lessons will also be recorded and posted on YouTube.

“Now, if we break down an animal, or a whole fish, we can do it in here,” he said. “They’ll be able to make notes and actually watch it. We’re going to build up a video library of all the prep we’ve done in the past, so these kids can go back and look at it whenever they want.”

In addition to technical skills, students also learn the value of fresh ingredients and nutrition.

“They all end up eating better, drinking better. Everybody has Mountain Dew on their desk the first week of class, and by the end of the first semester everybody’s drinking water,” Hirst said. “They’ve all dropped the pop.”

After a day of lecture and instruction at the college, the students then go to Willow Ridge, where they put their skills to practice in a real restaurant environment.

“We’re feeding 70 to 80 people a night up there,” he said. “I like the fact that we can get people out, just because it means my kids are busy, and if they’re busy they’re getting better under pressure.”

While not an easy profession, success after college is very much possible, Hirst said.

“We’ve got three kids who actually opened a restaurant in Minneapolis, all three graduates. One’s the head chef and the other two are assisting him,” he said. “It’s just so much fun to watch them start a business and watch it grow, and it’s all real food, made every day.”

The demand for quality restaurants, too, is growing across Iowa.

“Des Moines is a brilliant city for food now. It’s on the food map, it’s getting recognized. Grinnell is a great town to go eat in,” Hirst said. “You’re getting more independently owned restaurants and businesses, which is good because those people will make food from scratch.”

For Hirst, it has been exciting to watch demand for culinary arts instruction grow.

“It’s been good to see that change. I can name so many places now where there are students who are cooking who I know are cutting up whole chickens from raw and making dishes with it,” he said. “Nursing homes, they’re in hospitals. They’re teaching at scout groups and golf clubs and restaurants, and that’s really fabulous to know.”

An open house for Iowa Central’s new culinary arts classrooms will be held for the community in September.