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Culinary students gain hands-on experience

Iowa Central program celebrates first anniversary

October 27, 2008
By EMILIE NELSON Messenger staff writer

There are some courses that just can't be taught in the classroom anymore, students need real world experience. That's the view of Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Michael Hirst.

The 28 students enrolled in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program are spending less time hitting the books and more time in the kitchen as they learn to apply their skills at the Willow Ridge Golf Course, Restaurant and Bar.

The program began in September 2007 after Don Decker, president of Decker Truck Line Inc. in Fort Dodge, purchased and renovated the former American Legion Golf Course and club house north of Fort Dodge. Once the renovation was complete, the facility became a laboratory for Iowa Central students through a partnership arrangement with the college.

''This program really was made possible by the Deckers. We wouldn't have the wonderful facilities without their generosity,'' Hirst said.

The students spend at least five days a week on-site at Willow Ridge learning the ins and outs of the culinary and restaurant business.

''I want this to be a hands-on experience for the students,'' Hirst said. ''This is an art they just can't learn in the classroom alone. I would say the students spend at least 80 percent in real-time and 20 percent in a book.''

Hirst, a native of England, has nearly 20 years of experience in the culinary business. He plans to utilize his connections in England in order to allow his best students the opportunity to study internationally in the future. Hirst also adds international flair to the menu at Willow Ridge, giving students the opportunity to prepare both American and English cuisine.

''He's a very committed instructor,'' culinary student Patricia Rohan said of Hirst.

Students involved in the culinary program also gain experience in planning a wide variety of events from Sunday brunches to wedding receptions. This fall the students have organized a number of dinners and charitable events as well. A Jamaican-theme dinner held earlier this month offered a wide variety of traditional Jamaican cuisine. Students planned a casino night that was held on Thursday evening featuring an appetizer bar. Proceeds from the event were donated to help fund breast cancer research. A recent harvest dinner planned by student Allison Teague featured a menu of seasonal turkey, squash and apple entrees.

''It was a fun event to plan, I enjoyed the cooking and learning to use seasonally available products,'' Teague said.

Along with food preparation, students also spend time learning to do their own sales, marketing and promotions for the events they host.

''They really need to learn how run events without loss. I want them to know how to spot the potential good and bad in the restaurant business,'' Hirst said.

Upon completion of the two-year program, students will have earned an associate of applied science degree. Hirst believes that it is the experience that will really take his students places when they graduate.

''I see a lot of potential managers and head chefs in this bunch,'' he said.

Contact Emilie Nelson at 573-2141 or



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