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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Week at School


My Week at School

Let’s first start this blog in my Meat Fabrication class which is really butchery.  We also cook the cuts of meat that we fabricate into delicious dishes that we share with other classes as I stated previously.  Last Friday’s class was all about sausage.  We finally got around to stuffing the seasoned pork meat into pig casings.  Just so we’re all on the same page pig casings are the actual intestines from the animal and in some instances butchers also use lamb casings.

We had Kielbasa, spicy Italian, Tuscan and mild Italian mixes that we prepared into large links and Chef Spicer had us grill and sauté them into wonderful meals buffet style.  This particular feast was extraordinary in the fact that all the students from neighboring classes were oooing and ahhhhing about the meat/sausage.  There are simply some dishes that resonate within all of us because of a childhood memory or even a positive experience from just a month ago.  Sausage seems to be one of those dishes/foods that we can all enjoy tremendously with the same appreciation level.

I too, fall into the sausage-lover’s category because of my father and grandfather.  My grandfather Okolovitch was 100% Russian and his parents brought their food history with them from Russia when they immigrated to the United States.  I am the lucky recipient of that history as they would teach me very early charcuterie skills at the tender age of 8 and from there-on I was very appreciative of what a butcher and sausage maker can bring to the table.  I was also a very lucky young man to have parents and grandparents that would take the time to teach us kids the “Old World” skills and knowledge that gave an entire country sustenance.

We next move on to Pantry and Breakfast class where we were involved in a food competition of sorts as a field trip.  This particular event was held at the Ritz Charles here in Indianapolis/Carmel which is a banquet hall that facilitates weddings and Bar Mitzvahs as well as other special events.  The wonderful thing about this event is that it is sponsored each year by St. Vincent’s Hospital and they specialize in cardiac care.  The chef competitor’s dishes must be heart healthy requiring proper levels of unsaturated fats, sugars, sodium, carbohydrates, etc.

Our class was involved because our chef instructor Ralph Comstock is a legend throughout the state of Indiana and a highly sought after judge for such events.  While Chef Comstock was at the judges table we, his minions, were busy at work setting up tables, serving food, clearing plates and keeping time for the chef competitors.  It was a wonderful learning experience from the fact that we were able to meet professional chefs and speak with them.  A few of my fellow students were trying to glean as much information about nutrition from a ten minute conversation as they possibly could.  I took time to bond with Chef Comstock and also talk to each chef individually – there were 12 in all.  The chefs were from all walks of life such as students from Ivy Tech, local restaurants, nursing homes and the Ritz Charles sent two of their own chefs to represent their establishment.  Everything looked delicious and beautiful.  Cheri Herman Daniels – the First Lady of Indiana was one of the judge’s involved giving credibility to the importance and prestige of the event.

Yesterday’s nutrition class was wonderful because of the information we learned and more importantly from whom we learned it.  Chef DeWitt of the Indianapolis Colts came to our class as a guest speaker to talk about his experiences with the organization and his background.  A lot of folks in these parts know all about Second Helpings but what they don’t know is how their culinary program has impacted the community of Indianapolis.  Chef DeWitt is a graduate of Second Helping’s program and spoke glowingly about his experiences there.

Chef DeWitt regaled us with stories concerning nutritional needs by the players.  He states that the menu is pretty strict but varied – chicken and fish are focused foods on the buffet and chef offers many different ways they are prepared.  His core philosophy is to offer items that will first provide the Colts with the proper energy level to perform on the field and then with the proper nutrition and protein to provide growth in the weight room and last but, certainly, not least is to give players the building blocks to recover from their injuries in an efficient and natural way.

Sounds like chef has his work cut out for him -- he would only tell us things that players will allow him to say such as:  Dwight Freeney won’t eat off the buffet table because he has a personal trainer and nutritionist that states he eat Bison for his protein needs.  Dwight feels that this meat source gives him the leanest most concentrated form of protein to help him with his game.  Conversely, Peyton Manning conducts himself like any ordinary person eating various items off the buffet table as do all the other players.

I’m always poking myself to see if I’m going to wake up from this dream I’m experiencing as a culinary student at Ivy Tech.  The level of professionalism, curriculum and instructors is very high and consider myself extremely lucky to a part of this educational system.  I can’t wait for my next class remembering I never felt that way with my first stint in college 26 years ago.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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