Culinary Arts adjusts to COVID-19, emphasis on safety

Culinary students make fruit salads at an event outside Building 7 earlier this semester. Photo courtesy DMACC.

Much like many colleges and high schools across the country, DMACC has had to rely on online learning for a majority of classes.

The classes that are still in-person have had to make some adjustments. Some classes feel the effects more than others.

Chef John Andres, director of the Iowa Culinary Institute, was able to provide some insight on what is like for the staff and students to transition into this way of learning. 

Masks are required at all times in class, which can be uncomfortable for certain classes. and for Chef Andres’ courses in particular, they pose a unique challenge. ”Professional kitchens are notoriously hot and humid, and our students are often standing over stoves and in front of ovens, so the mask can be uncomfortable at times.”

One of Chef Andres’s students, Haley Scarpino, is in her second year at DMACC, and the new school mandates for safety have been a big adjustment for her, especially not being able to see facial expressions. “Kitchens are loud, and it can be hard to hear without a mask. Adding a mask muffles the sound. Facial expressions are a big part of communication, especially in a loud, hectic environment.”  

Culinary students are constantly keeping their personal hygiene up and have had to work even harder to keep the work spaces as clean as possible.

The culinary students even opened back up the student-run restaurant, The Bistro, on Sept. 23. Many of the guidelines on the DMACC campus will be implemented at The Bistro. 

Chef Andres has been very pleased with how his students have transitioned to this “new normal. He said, I personally feel that DMACC has done an incredible job of keeping students safe through various directives implemented here on campus.”

Through all the adjustments, Haley is just very happy to get back in the kitchen.

“I do feel safe/comfortable with our current precautions. I’m very impressed with the precautions taken by DMACC and the communication around COVID-19. I am so happy how flexible the Iowa Culinary Institute has been and how quickly they could safely get us back in the kitchen.”

The Iowa Culinary Institute has also had to adjust a 35-year-old tradition this year. Since 1986, DMACC has participated in a French Chef exchange, which was started by French Professor Maura Nelson. In January, DMACC hosted 20 French chefs for two weeks to mark the 35th anniversary of the exchange.

 This year, they are going virtual and having prerecorded recipe videos to show to the class. A French interpreter will be talking through the recipe on live video during the video. The Iowa Culinary Institute students will then be able to make the recipes and continue to carry on the tradition.

Nelson came up with the virtual format idea. “I suggested we do the exchange in a virtual format this year, as I knew we could not bring chefs in during the pandemic.” 

Nelson hopes to have a Q&A in real time with the French chefs to give the students the best possible experience. 

“I am thrilled that even during a global pandemic, we can offer the French Chef cooking demonstrations to our students,” she said.

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