Chef Brent Spring is getting calls every weeks from restaurants across northern Indiana.
The restaurateurs need help and hope Spring’s students at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend can help.
With the economy going strong, restaurants need employees. The 195 people studying hospitality, culinary arts, or pastry and baking are prime targets.
Spring posts the jobs. He talks to students. Some of them are planning their own restaurants or taking classes for fun.
What Spring knows is that restaurant wages don’t always compete with factory wages when times are good. Even restaurant managers don’t always get benefits and that’s become a big thing, he said.
Spring and 25 others from the Ivy Tech programs just returned in March from a trip to Paris to learn about food and the culture there.
One of the things they learned was that those working in food in France don’t earn minimum wage without benefits. “The hospitality industry is a much more respected and well-paid industry,” he said.
However the Ivy Tech students plan to use the skills, that is the focus. Learning skills gives them options.
Their big event, almost a final public exam, is the 14th annual Culinary Arts Dinner Auction at 6 p.m. April 22 at the Doubletree by Hilton, 123 N. St. Joseph St., South Bend.
Four courses will be prepared and served, along with cocktails and hors d’ouvres. Live and silent auctions will help raise money for the Ivy Tech Foundation, which helped pay for the trip to France the students and instructors took.
The menu for this year’s event is inspired by that trip. At a practice luncheon on Friday, several courses were served to a few of us who gathered and put the cloth napkins on our laps.
On one side, the menu was printed in French, on the other in English. Servers approached those seated at tables and took orders, sometimes nervously. Minutes later, salads of baby bibb lettuce, beets, fennel, snow peas, local goat cheese and vinaigrette made with Unity Farms honey arrived. Or a soup of roasted sunchoke, potato, braised pork belly and truffle oil.
This is not what college students are usually handling at lunchtime.
Chef Kip Peters, one of the instructors, oversaw students making strawberry rhubarb sorbet with liquid nitrogen.
Though there was a vegetarian entree option, most diners got smoked beef tenderloin and herb-crusted lamb chop with demi-glace made with Goshen Brewing Co. amber and accompanied by spinach and leek custard and roasted rainbow carrots.
The winning dish of the day was a white chocolate cremeaux and citrus tart with a crouton made of brioche. A crumble, almost dirt-like in texture, of chocolate was on the plate along with compressed melon and pink peppercorns. It’s a lovely dish and doesn’t need tweaking. For those who were allergic to the almonds in it, a lovely tiramisu was served.
“We’re still tweaking the recipes a little bit,” Spring said. The dessert that Chef Chris Pitt oversaw making doesn’t need tweaking. The lamb chop was good, but the fat could have caramelized a bit more and the salad needed a slight hit of salt.
The meal on April 22 will be lovely. Student Tyree Kirkland will be there having fun. Friday was one of her first days serving students and she was delightful to talk to as she served us. Cadi Nowaczyk, who has been in the program for four years getting multiple degrees, graciously served us and told of how much she enjoyed visiting Julia Child’s apartment in Paris. She’s passionate about cooking and plans to move to Florida after graduating on May 6. She hopes to eventually open her own restaurant.
Working in food service is difficult, but rewarding. The students at Ivy Tech are learning skills and show the joy that comes from making and serving food. It’s not only fun to watch, but it helps elevate the dining scene locally as they learn the many crafts in the food and beverage industry.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.