The Guest Chef Experience

I guess I’m a big dork but I have really good memories of my time in undergrad at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. The program is half business, half hospitality, and it all comes together during the hours upon hours (around 800 in all) students are required to work, applying theory to practical experience. One of the most realistic tests of the students’ skills comes via a class known as Guest Chefs, in which invited chefs visit the school to supervise a high-end, open-to-the-public dinner that students market and run. Heavy hitters such as Daniel Boulud, Todd English, and Michel Roux are just a few of the talented past participants. So when I was invited this year I was in, as I love new experiences, especially if it means helping other people learn along the way.

Last weekend, fellow test kitchen cook Amy and I headed to Ithaca and oversaw the students for two days as they produced our four-course, 12-recipe, pan-Mediterranean menu for a group of 100. Featured were a few of our favorite recipes, such as our Smoked Paprika Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp, Charmoula Roast Pork Loin (made with rack of lamb on this outing), and Saag Tofu with Ras el Hanout subbed for the garam masala. Though the recipes were largely about clean flavors, straightforward preparations, and simple presentations, the students still learned plenty. One student told me they thought the recipes had so few ingredients that they’d be easy, but quickly realized that wasn’t true. Instead, it meant every ingredient had to be treated with good technique or the outcome would be subpar.

But we learned too. The most exciting discovery was that a flailing economy made the students fearful, yet unwavering in their desire to forge a career in the food world and dork out on food, just like we do every day here. The one thing I didn’t recall? Just how hard it is to get to upstate New York from the West Coast and how freakin’ freezing it is there in mid-February.