Culinary students from Lorain County Joint Vocational School will share the CVI kitchen for a pop-up dinner August 24th with Chef Scott Schneider, Chef de Cuisine at New York’s Michelin Star-rated Ai Fiori restaurant. Chef Scott is a 2006 graduate of the school’s culinary program.
“I’m hoping that the students will appreciate the opportunity that they’re given to work at The Chef’s Garden and the Culinary Vegetable Institute with Chef Scott and Chef Jamie,” said culinary program director, Chef Tim Michitsch. “Hopefully that’ll motivate them to want to be like Scott and Jamie. Because, between the two of them, the knowledge they’re going to be exposed to and the talent and skills are unbelievable. So hopefully that will rub off on this generation.”
Student chef Megan Ratha, a high school junior, will be one of the students selected to participate in the pop-up dinner, according to Chef Tim. She is already familiar with the CVI kitchen after assisting with the 2018 Twelve Days of Christmas event, which left an impression.
“It was really nice to see all of the chefs working together and how busy it got. But, at the same time, it was organized,” Megan said. “And there were a lot of people there, too, and some of them talked to me. It’s really nice and you get to cook for a whole bunch of people and see their reaction to your cooking, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I did that!’ I feel like I was honored to be asked to go, because not everybody got asked to go help out.”
Megan said the most valuable lesson she took away from the experience was learning to make good use of her time. “Definitely time management,” she said. “I’m really bad at time management, so seeing how they listed the whole plan for the whole twelve courses was cool.”
Like Chef Scott, Megan has excelled in representing the school in numerous high level culinary competitions.
“We trained her for Skills USA competition, which is our student youth organization,” Chef Tim said. “She won the state competition so she’ll be representing Ohio at the national skills competition in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a six-hour competition. She’ll have to prepare soup, salad, two different entrees and chicken stock, and there’s a bunch of other skills she has to demonstrate during the competition, so it’s pretty intense.”
Participating in competitions requires a considerable amount of effort above and beyond the basic curriculum, Chef Tim said. As a student, Chef Scott was characterized by his work ethic and hunger to excel.
“These kids didn’t have to be here until 7:40 a.m., and he was probably here at 7 o’clock in the morning, sometimes earlier if we did a practice,” Chef Tim said. “We did all of our training for competitions after school, so he would stay after school until 7 o’clock at night, and he had a job in the industry.”
Another one of Chef Tim’s former students, Chef Jessica Krause, was a contemporary of Chef Scott’s, graduating from the program a year after him in 2007. The two also attended the Culinary Institute of America together. Currently the banquet chef at Jack Casino in Cleveland, Chef Jessica said she’d welcome the opportunity to participate in the CVI pop-up with her friend and former classmate.
“If they need my help, I’ll help,” she said. “I’ll reach out if they need anything I can contribute. I’m pretty sure I’ll be there. It depends on the needs. I’ll be happy to do it.”
As a student, Chef Jessica had opportunities to work at CVI events alongside Chef Jamie and other accomplished chefs. “Being young, and being able to experience that ─ if you’re passionate about the industry it puts a desire in you to push and be better and to strive for greatness,” she said.
Heading into the August event, Chef Jessica (who is now a member of the program’s advisory board) shared some words of wisdom for the student chefs.
“It’s an amazing learning opportunity and opportunity to grow,” she said. “The more you work with experienced people, the more it broadens your horizons. Watch how they prepare things. Watch the way that they break down meats, the way they treat vegetables. The respect for the product is the most important thing. The respect for where the food comes from is something special, and it’s something you don’t get everywhere else. It’s amazing what they do there.”
Chef Jessica said the bond that she, Chef Scott and other LCJVS classmates formed during their student days has remained solid over the years. “We all have so much respect for each other that, if you need something, I’m gonna be there,” she said. “It’s been twelve years, eleven years since we graduated, and we all still treat each other like family. And maybe we only talk once a year, but that once a year is special.”
“This school breeds some amazing chefs,” she continued. “There’s so many of us that, if we hadn’t gone through this program, we wouldn’t be half the chefs that we are, half the people that we are, as well. Tim instills in his students respect and values and drive. Everybody respects him, and we all keep coming back. We pick up right where we left off. He makes that happen for us all. He connects us all together.”
Chef Tim said close-knit relationships are the nature of the hospitality business, and that the willingness to always help and lend a hand is a unique quality among chefs.
“I think in the hospitality industry, it’s different from other industries. We will go above and beyond for our colleagues and our friends,” he said. “If someone needs something, we’re there. We’re not afraid to work 18 hours a day. It’s not in our vocabulary to say it’s not my responsibility or it’s not my job. We give. That’s what we do. That’s what chefs do.”
Chef Scott demonstrated that spirit two years ago when participating with other alumni chefs during one of the school’s annual scholarship dinners.
“Scott did the pasta course, and the surprise was he had a pound of black English truffles,” Chef Tim said. “They were shaving black truffles on each pasta course before it went out to the customers ─ 250 people! Who gets a pound of English truffles donated?”
Eyes on the Prize
Chef Tim didn’t mask his emotions when talking about his students, both past and present, those who’ve reached the pinnacle of success and those just starting out.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means ─ it’s just special ─ it’s a special bond, a special relationship between myself, the educator, and Scott or other graduates and students that other people don’t realize,” he said. “I’m so proud of Scott and where he’s at. What he’s done. It didn’t come easy. He worked his ass off. But he hasn’t changed his course. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew where he wanted to go in his career. And he worked his ass off when he was in school and on the job, when he was in competition, in college, in industry, working in New York City. He had no patience for goofing off. He was like, ‘Chef is here to teach. I want to learn, because I want to get the prize. I want to be able to say I did the best.’ He called to tell me he got the promotions along the way ─ kind of like a father and son relationship, me just saying ‘Go do it, man! Do whatever you want!’”