Adjust Font Size :

Using Produce To Inspire The Next Generation Of Culinary Professionals,
Culinary Institute of Michigan Joins New York Produce Show Program

The Chef demos at The New York Produce show and conference are legion for helping innovate new ideas for increasing produce consumption in the foodservice sector as well as adding color and excitement to the day. This has been well reported in pieces such as these:

Chefs Demonstrate Produce-Centric Dishes at The New York Produce Show.

This year, the program is expanding with, for the first time, four students from the Culinary Institute of Michigan (CIM) among those foraging produce from exhibitors and stepping up to the kitchen stage to impress the judges. These students will be competing against four students from the Providence, Rhode Island-based Johnson & Wales University, under the tutelage of Professor and Chef Doug Stuchel, veteran of six previous New York Produce Shows.

The CIM students will be accompanied by coach and instructor, Thomas F. Recinella, CEC, AAC, HGT, Dean of Culinary Arts and executive Chef of the school’s Courses Restaurant. We asked Carol Bareuther, Contributing Editor of Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more:

Thomas F. Recinella, CEC, AAC, HGT
Dean of culinary Arts 
Executive Chef
Culinary Institute of Michigan

Q:Could you tell us about the Culinary Institute of Michigan?

A: The Culinary Institute of Michigan is a Division of Baker College, the largest independent college in the state. CIM has two campuses, one in Port Huron and the other in Muskegon. Our Port Huron CIM opened in 2012 and offers three Associates Degree programs: Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry and Food and Beverage Management. There’s also a Certificate in Baking and Pastry.

Q:Please describe your background both as a chef and in culinary competition.

A: I have been in the foodservice industry for over 35 years, starting in the business as a dishwasher and line cook and working my way up to chef. My wife and I owned our own restaurant and catering business as well as ran the oldest private club in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

My career in higher education spans 22 years. On the competition side, I was a member of the New York Culinary Olympic team and competed in Italy and Germany with them. I also served as an adviser to the United States Army Culinary Arts Team (USACAT) for the World Cup in Luxembourg. I’m an ACF (American Culinary Federation) Certified Judge and was inducted into the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, which has only 100 active life time members, in June 2015.

Q:What is your philosophy of how to train student chefs to be successful in the foodservice world both when graduating today and when working in the future?

A: First and foremost, students need to understand how to be team members; that the betterment of the whole operation comes before themselves. This, I think, is even more important than the hard skills of technique. They also must grasp the business side of the industry, the sense of urgency and situational leadership. We foster these lessons in class and out by involving our students in a great deal of community outreach. We want them to become meaningful additions to not only their place of employment but also their community.

Q:Could you describe the role of fresh produce in culinary education today?

A: Produce-centric philosophies in cooking and health abound. It is extremely important for those of us in culinary education to keep abreast of the trends and directions that the industry is taking.

Q:What do you teach students about sourcing produce?

A: To source the freshest product available and whenever possible to source locally. Also, to understand the seasonality of ingredients and embrace the different seasons and the abundance that comes with each. For example, we instruct students to cook items several different ways without seasoning and to taste them. For example, what does roasting do to a beet that is different than pickling the same beet or boiling it? We encourage experimentation.

Q:How do your students learn how to use fresh fruits and vegetables?

A: Our students work with fresh produce in every aspect of every class. One example of how we stimulate their minds to think about produce in everyday scenarios is to puree the vegetables in the braising liquid. The sauce retains all the flavor of the vegetables from the mirepoix and makes a wonderful thickening agent for the finished braising sauce in place of a butter-laden roux. It is an epiphany for them when they taste it, and it has such a clean light finish yet with a robust deep flavor.

Another example is steeping potato skins in milk before adding to make mashed potatoes with an enhanced and deep flavor. A third example happened recently when our pastry students were in the community teaching how to make chocolates utilizing fresh herbs. These examples are just a few that help students to regard produce in a different light, not just as side dishes or second-thought items, but rather as main items and as a food commodity that can be used for the center of the plate.

Q:Tell us about the CIM students who will compete?

A: All four are in the second year of their program. Jordan Holly, Jamie Cook and Amber Beckem are all Culinary Arts students, and Angela Meija is a Baking and Pastry student. All four are on our culinary competitive cooking team, and Jamie is the Captain. Each has developed produce items as important aspects to their competitive dishes. One example is when Jamie made a potato cup that she filled with a braised chicken mixture. She was required to use chicken for the competition and came up with a creative way to serve the braise in an edible vegetable vessel.

Q:I understand your students have won culinary competitions in the past.

A: Yes, our students have competed and won Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in competitions sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation and SKILLS USA Post-Secondary. Angela Mejia is a 2016 State Champion in SKILLS USA Post-Secondary Commercial Baking.

Q:What are you and your students looking forward to at the New York Produce Show and the culinary competition?

A: We are looking forward to interacting with industry leaders and experts and learning more about produce-centric philosophies and methodologies. And then upon our return to the CIM sharing what we learned with our students, faculty and the community at large.

Q:Finally, how will your students approach the culinary competition. What is the game plan to transform ingredients into a competition worthy dish?

A: Preparation is the key factor. From what I have been told about this event, and everything I can find, it looks to be challenging because there is not much cooking equipment available. Competitions are nothing more than a mirror of real life scenarios in my mind. You must be ready for anything and everything. The only way to do that is to prepare.

We live by two quotes… Dwight Eisenhower’s words, ‘The Plan is nothing, Planning is everything.’ and Vince Lombardi’s words, ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.’ These two quotes hang in our student-run restaurant kitchen. It doesn’t matter if we are in normal everyday service or practicing for the State Championship, we try to live by these two quotes every day.

Competitions should not be special; they should reflect and be an enhancement of the everyday educational experience. In fact, we do not choose students to compete based on skill, we choose students to compete based on what they have done for others. What kind of community service are they doing, are they helping other students who need a hand etc. The four students I am bringing have excelled in giving of themselves to others in a genuine manner and are in great academic standing. That is why they are on our team and coming to this event.


The foodservice portion of The New York Produce Show and Conference is a vital portion of the event.

You can see that in the agenda of the “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum, which you can see here. This program is specifically dedicated to increasing the use of produce in foodservice. But the whole show is focused on #CelebratingFresh, and part of this is admiration for the work of chefs and encouragement for the next generation of culinary professionals.

So come to New York and register for the “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum right here.

And the entire New York Produce Show and Conference right here.

We still have hotel rooms in the headquarters hotel, so let us know your needs here.

And join us in our effort to boost produce consumption in foodservice at the New York Produce Show and Conference.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Latest from Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit