To still provide hands-on learning experiences for its culinary and hospitality students during the pandemic, Oklahoma State University called on chefs from top area clubs to help stage a special virtual Food Art event.
There’s a reason that the Oklahoma State University (OSU) School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) is ranked 22nd in the world by CEO World magazine.
The program, part of OSU’s Spears School of Business, holds chef events twice a semester, or four times a year, bringing in specialty chefs from all across the world. Craft beer and wine forums are also offered, and students gain hands-on learning experience in commercial kitchens, as well as university, hotel and event venues. They help to plan and execute high-profile events and build relationships with industry professionals who mentor students. In addition, the program offers study-abroad experiences.
For the Class of 2021, however, the past year was anything but typical. With COVID restrictions in place, Mark Cochran, M.Ed., CEC, CFBE, AAC, Executive Chef and Instructor of Professional Practice at the OSU School of HTM, knew he had to do something special for the students, along with the people who patronize the teaching restaurants on the Stillwater, Okla., campus. And he knew he would have to do it virtually.
That led to the idea for a 2021 Showcase of Food Art, a two-hour, live-streamed event held in March, for which HTM students had the opportunity to work with three Executive Chefs from the top clubs in Oklahoma. In addition, the Showcase served as a fundraising event for the program’s Scholarship Fund.
“This was the first time we’ve ever done this,” says Cochran. “We wanted to give something back to our guests who come every semester. And we needed to show our guests, customers and alumni that there was something we could still do.”
Club chefs participating in the Showcase included Alex Pierce, CEC, Executive Chef of Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.; Marcelo Miranda, Executive Chef of Oakwood Country Club in Enid, Okla.; and Marc Guizol, CEC, Executive Chef of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Golf & Country Club (OKGCC).
“We wanted the best of the best,” says Susan Anderson, CMP, an Event Strategist and Facilitator of Experiential Learning at OSU Spears School of Business, who helped to coordinate the event.
Back- and front-of-the-house students took part in the Showcase, and each guest chef had a student assistant to help him prepare and plate a two-course meal in the OSU kitchen lab. Graduate student Katherine Ruck and Cochran served as masters of ceremony, interviewing the chefs during the event to ask about their techniques.
OSU’s HTM program includes 207 students, and Cochran chose almost 20 to take part in the Showcase. “I had to take care of the seniors,” he says.
The club chefs planned their own menus. “We put a guideline down, and they picked their own dishes. We set everything up as a competition,” Cochran says.
For his first course, Southern Hills’ Pierce prepared Thai Roasted Lobster with a Green Curry Emulsion, Grapefruit Avocado Relish, and Crispy Sweet Potato. His second course included Cedar-Roasted New York Strip, Butternut Squash Succotash, Charred Broccolini, Sweet Corn Sabayon, Maker’s Mark Steak Sauce, and Pickled Green Tomato Relish.
Oakwood’s Miranda selected Beef Steak Tomato Salad with Balsamic Caramelized Bermuda Onions, Gorgonzola Wedge, and Local Baby Green tossed in House Vinaigrette for his first course. His second course included Salmon en Croute, featuring Fresh Norwegian Salmon with House Whip Cream Cheese, Sautéed Fresh Baby Spinach Wrap in All-Butter Pastry, Whip Creamy Potato Tomato, and Raspberry Beurre Blanc.
OKGCC’s Guizol’s first course consisted of a Farm Brown Egg Foie Gras Parfait, Port Gelée, and House-Baked Mini Baguette. The second course featured Seared Sea Scallop, Carrot Flower, Spinach, and Mountain Sturgeon Caviar.
In addition to showing their creativity, each chef wanted to ensure that the students would learn something new.
“I wanted to have good, flavorful food that was a little different with different techniques, so they could take something away,” Pierce says.
To that end, to prepare his New York strip, Pierce used a house rub on the steak before searing it. Then he set a cedar board on fire and put the steak on the smoldering plank to roast it in the oven. “As it cooks, the smoke flavor permeates the skin,” he explained.
A Virtual Member Event
More than 400 people watched the virtual event, including members from the participating chefs’ properties.
To raise money for the HTM Scholarship Fund, a silent auction was held during the Showcase for each of the three meals. Audience members texted their name, bid, and the name of the club and its chef preparing their meal of choice. The winning bidders received the dinner for six people, to be served at that chef’s property.
People could also make donations at osugiving.com and text questions to the chefs. Between the silent auction and the website, donors contributed more than $5,000 to the scholarship fund.
The club chefs believe the Showcase was as beneficial to their properties as it was to the students. “We got more exposure to the community, and it was a way to support OSU,” says Miranda, who also expressed hope that Oakwood CC would be able to invite students to help with large weekend events in the future.
Pierce also saw the Showcase as a way to support students in a program that can help to funnel employees to Southern Hills. “And our members enjoy seeing staff members giving back,” he adds.
A Winning Concept
Cochran has a wealth of ideas for future Showcases, ranging from inviting chefs from resorts or fine-dining and other restaurants, to having themed menus with international cuisine. The initial Showcase was a success because of the “caliber of our students and the chefs,” he says.
And the three club chefs have received plenty of positive feedback from their participation in the inaugural event. Eighty percent of the membership at Oakwood CC, which is close to Stillwater, has OSU ties, according to Miranda. “They want to know when we’re going to do it again,” he says.