ACC Culinary Arts Students Adapt to ‘New Normal’ of Instruction

ACC Culinary Arts Chef Brian Bailey explains a point about cooking to student Nessa Mitchem during a recent visit to pick up boxed ingredients.

ACC Culinary Arts Chef Brian Bailey explains a point about cooking to student Nessa Mitchem during a recent visit to pick up boxed ingredients.

Culinary Arts students at Alamance Community College this summer are completing their requirements in learning classical cuisine in order to graduate. Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has kept students off campus since mid-March, however, culinary students were not allowed in the department’s large teaching kitchen. The only option was for the prospective chefs to learn from the intimacy of their own kitchens.

“The instructors have found creative ways for students to make progress on their educational goals—translating the teaching and learning of culinary skills from face-to-face classes to online demonstrations and providing each student with a box of ingredients to practice the lesson at home,” said Dr. Connie Wolfe, Vice President of Instruction.

cooler full of ingredients with a label reading "property of ACC culinary arts"The idea to package ingredients, prepare a recipe, and require each student to submit photos of their completed meal first took root at the end of the recently completed spring term. Now, while following recommended coronavirus protocols (such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing), twelve second-year students are picking up their boxed ingredients every Tuesday and receiving brief instructions from Chef Brian Bailey, Department Head, supported by instructors Todd Wanless and Jeff Mitchell.

Bailey said the idea was to replicate as closely as possible what these students would have done this summer: Prepare a classical menu of soup, appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. One casualty of the current situation is that the students cannot serve their meals to the public using restaurant etiquette as is tradition at ACC the first half of the summer.

“What we are doing is unique to our situation. There are very few schools in the state, let alone the country, trying to pull this off from what I’ve been able to determine,” said Chef Bailey.

Still, there are drawbacks. For one, not all home kitchens are created equally as second year student Nessa Mitchem testified.

“I have a pretty small kitchen at home, so it’s been somewhat of a challenge,” she said. “At ACC, we have the larger stoves and cutting boards. We’re used to chefs giving us a demo and showing us how to cut chicken properly, for example, when we need some help. But at home it’s forced us to think more critically. We can always consult with chefs on email or text but doing it at home makes us rely more on the knowledge and skill levels we’ve learned at school.”

Bailey said because the students this summer are preparing to earn their degrees, they have a keener comprehension and can adapt pretty easily performing the assignments in their home kitchens.

The biggest challenge, Bailey said, has been submission of the photos showing completed meals for the instructors to evaluate. When photos from many students overloaded his email in the spring term, Bailey changed the submission process so that students now simply text crisp photos for him to judge. This process has worked well. Chef Bailey can see in one student’s photo, for example, that the bread they baked is underproofed and underbaked. Then instructor and student can have a conversation about specific cooking issues.

“We’re just trying to make this new normal that’s been thrown at us work,” said Bailey. “And so far, it’s worked really well.”