Hospitality department gets creative during pandemic

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Hospitality department gets creative during pandemic

With distancing requirements and travel restrictions in place the hospitality industry is the United States is struggling. The culinary arts and hospitality management program at Tri-C, however, is still going strong, thanks to the creativity of students and faculty.

The first change made to the program was similar to the other departments at the college, which was most classes going virtual.

All the students in the program have to take a food lab, explained Karen Monath, associate dean of hospitality management. “Our chef instructors were quite amazing.”

They were able to get funding from the Tri-C Foundation for equipment and technology to lead in cooking at home, she said. Some students cooked on video and some took pictures afterward, she said, explaining the students filled out lab reports about what they did and how it ended up tasting.

“Adapt and overcome,” said Chef Ky-Wai Wong, an assistant professor in the hospitality management program. “That’s pretty much our motto.”

Bre’Anna Page, a culinary arts major, found both positives and negatives to cooking at home.

“It was fun at home but more difficult because I have limited space in my kitchen as well as limited counter and workspace,” she said.

“In the fall we brought food labs back on campus,” Monath said.

In addition to social distancing and mask wearing, the kitchens, which are already cleaned frequently, were cleaned using a “heightened protocol,” she said.

Class sizes were reduced so six feet of distance could be maintained.

In the hospitality program’s restaurant, Alere, they ran into the obvious problem.

“We couldn’t have any customers,” she said.

One of the instructors came up with the idea to put cardboard “customers” in the seats so students could serve them. That way they felt like they were “serving a person instead of serving a chair,” Monath said, adding instructors would say, for example, that a certain customer needed something, and the students would respond. 

The students were able to produce the menu that was given to the stand-in customers, and it didn’t go to waste.

“All of that food was delivered to St. Malachi,” she said, explaining it is a church with a soup kitchen in Cleveland that gives meals to those in need.

Another obstacle was how to teach students banquet production when large gatherings were not allowed. To overcome that, the program worked with the community.

One way was by preparing and boxing up to-go lunches for 125 people at the West Side Catholic Center, said Wong. The students stayed socially distanced and still learned “how to do batch cooking and quickly and efficiently” package up the meals, Wong said.

On another day the students prepared lunch for first responders at Lutheran Hospital in Ohio City.

Another time they prepared fish at the Hospitality Management Center and delivered it to a fish fry event, Month said.

A yearly wine-pairing dinner was held virtually. Alumnus Andreia Frincu, who earned a certificate in event planning, said it was quite a different experience holding that event during a pandemic.

“We had to hold it virtually and that was the first time it’s happened like that so we were all kind of figuring things out as we went but it was still really successful, just a big change than what they were used to,” she said.

This year’s wine dinner will also be virtual and is open to the public.

Another interesting way for students to practice catering a meal is upcoming. They will be preparing food for guests taking a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

An alumnus of Tri-C does catering for the railroad and the students are going to prepare food for 250 people and plate it in a train car, Monath said.

“Our faculty has been very, very creative and innovative,” she said. “It’s no small feat to find these kinds of things.”

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