Kitchen Full of Chefs Cook Up Memories

Too many cooks in the kitchen was a good thing at the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s asparagus Showcase Dinner on May 18. A handful of culinary students from Bridging Communities Regional Tech Center in Virginia joined the CVI kitchen team, as did three Chef for a Day participants. Add a mom snapping cell phone pictures and there wasn’t much elbow room to spare.

Chef Lincoln Marquis is the instructor of the Bridging Communities program. About a year ago he completed a week-long stage at the CVI, and the experience made such an impact on him that he wanted to bring his students back to participate firsthand.

“I was very excited to be coming here,” he said. “It required a good bit of selling because this sort of field trip is not a standard thing that my school has done before. But I thought it was going to be such a valuable experience in many ways that I can never provide them in a classroom situation.”

Feeding Dreams

While her daughter Autumn piped crème fraiche onto the amuse bouche, Tamara Wright captured photos and reveled in her daughter’s obvious joy. Autumn is a standout third-year student in Chef Marquis’s program, with scholarship offers from some of the country’s most prestigious culinary institutions, including the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales.

“She said she would give it all up to work here,” Tamara said. “It’s been wonderful for her to be able to be a part of this, and she’s already talking about taking the train to come back and do Chef for a Day.”

“It’s an educational experience, as well,” she continued. “I just overheard her telling a guest that she was so filled with joy just to be here and how everyone in the kitchen not only stopped what they were doing to answer questions and to offer advice, but that everyone has a specific skill set that they’re willing to share. They’re willing to teach.

“It would be a beautiful thing for the rest of the world to experience this.”

Lessons From Beyond the Classroom

During the two days that his students were in the kitchen and touring The Chef’s Garden, Chef Marquis said he was thrilled to see how the experience was affecting his young protégés.

“The changes I’ve seen in my students just in the time we’ve been here ─ when you’re working in someplace like this, and you’re working with people who’re really paying attention to what they’re doing, and really understand that the work they’re doing is important ─ that’s a big change from most of the school experience,” he said. “Learning is important, but a lot of what you’re doing in a school situation is just practice. You’re going to do it and that’s it. In hospitality, it’s really important to have customers, and a lot of schools don’t necessarily have that. The whole meaning of it is that you’re not making it for yourself, you’re making it for someone else. And that’s a different thing for my class. That’s the thing that makes people want to be in hospitality.”

“An experience like this shows you what you can do and what you can be,” Chef Marquis continued. “It’s about being able to do something that you might have thought was impossible.”

Future Chefs Evoke Past Memories

While Chef’s Garden asparagus was the stuff of inspiration and new memories in the kitchen, it evoked nostalgia and a bittersweet look back in time for guest Shayanna Bleile and her aunt, Marcie, both from nearby Norwalk, Ohio.

“Three years ago in April my uncle passed away,” Shayanna said. “And the reason I invited my aunt to be here with me today is because our love for asparagus grew through him.”

Shayanna said her godfather “Uncle Bill” was a foodie and wannabe chef who was particularly fond of asparagus. His influence encouraged Shayanna to expand her palate and see food as an adventure.

“He took me in when I was 15, and I’d never experienced any kind of vegetables like that,” she said. “And he really influenced me to try and enjoy.”

Marcie said Uncle Bill’s taste for the finer things was a result of his job, which included frequent travel. “He traveled a lot, and he would go to Chicago and Newport and all these big cities, and to all these nice restaurants, then he’d come and try to cook the dishes,” she said.

Marcie’s asparagus memories reached back to the time before she and her husband brought Shayanna into their home.

“Before Shay came along, he asked me to go to the store to get some steaks and asparagus,” she remembered. “So I came home with the biggest pieces of asparagus I could find. He looked at me and he goes, ‘Marcie! You get the thin ones! They’re tender!  You don’t want the big asparagus!’ We just kind of giggled about it, but it was just a thing, you know. Whenever he’d send me to the store he’d say ‘Get the thin asparagus!’”

Chance of a Lifetime

One of the three Chef for a Day participants summed up his own experience as “the chance of a lifetime.”

“I had the chance to sit down for the dinner, but I didn’t want to,” he said. “I’m having too much fun.”