Imagine for a moment that you are the head chef at a multi-million-dollar baseball facility. You come in on Tuesday to prepare for a visit from the league commissioner with four team owners in tow, a 50-person office party requiring walleye and 16 pans of ribs, a 200-person hors d’ oeuvres party of corporate sponsors, 225 picnicking patrons and food service for about 1,500 seats behind home plate.
If that isn’t enough, your sous chef is gone after being hospitalized two days ago, a prep cook gave you a two-day notice of resignation three days ago and you have been shorted peppers on your produce order. While picking up peppers at a local grocer, you get a call and find out that your kitchen manager – the only person left to help you on dayshift – is currently running to the rescue of a sick daughter in school and will not be returning to work that day.
Can you say “Murphy’s Law?”
No sweat! At least, not for Dylan Lipe. He is a graduate of the Rend Lake College Culinary Arts program and is trained for a day just like Tuesday. In fact, he handled this exact situation and nobody was the wiser. Except him. Call it “On the job training!”
“Every single party went off without a hitch,” he explained while reminiscing about that Tuesday.
And there were a lot of “Tuesdays” as an Executive Chef for Aramark’s Sports and Entertainment Division who is charged with delivering a fantastic menu of food and beverage at the Southern Illinois Miner’s Rent One Park in Marion. But, he admitted, that particular “Tuesday” was exceptionally trying.
Lipe recently closed the kitchen on the team’s attendance-breaking, inaugural season in the Frontier League.
“It went by fast,” he said.
Now, he will wait to hear what Aramark has planned for him in the off-season. The Fortune 500 company operates in 12 NFL organizations, 11 MLB teams, the NHL and the NBA. In 2008, Aramark has the Olympic games in China.
“They never tell me,” he said of his next destination. “Being a Bears fan, I hope it is Chicago. But ... Chicago in the winter ... maybe somewhere warm.”
Lipe, 28, from Du Quoin, started his quest for culinary greatness as a part-time worker at his hometown Dairy Queen. He graduated from the Culinary Arts Program at RLC this spring. Prior to becoming a student, he was the Assistant Banquet Chef at a Marriott location in the Virgin Islands for about a year. The choice to pack up his things and leave paradise for Southern Illinois must have been a difficult one. But, it was a smart one.
“I realized I had went about as far as I could in the business as quick as possible without my degree,” he said. “To get to the position I am in now from where I was would have taken me about seven years without a degree. Or, I could go back to school for two [years] and get the degree.”
Already having worked in the field, he knew exactly what he wanted to take from courses like Professional Cooking, Restaurant Management, Exploring Wines, Professional Pastry Principles, Culinary Math, Professional Baking Techniques and Garde Manger – French for “cold kitchen.”
What he didn’t anticipate was how much he was pushed to do it on his own terms. Under the direction of RLC Chef Instructors Brian Kalata and Loughton Smith, Lipe was encouraged to break through the confines of traditional cuisine and create new, bold recipes of his own.
Likewise, in the Miners’ first season, Lipe tested the foot-long limit of ballpark fare by introducing blackened walleye, Jamaican jerk shrimp, chocolate BBQ ribs, and specialty salads like fresh blueberry vinaigrette and balsamic glaze with fresh goat cheese. He offered taco pizza, seafood pizza, white chicken Italian pizza and a honey apple pie with habaneras, topped with ice cream that the fans couldn’t get enough of.
“Everybody loved it. I didn’t have any left. I had to make like 12 extra for people.”
A big part of being able to be creative in culinary arts at RLC is that students can order ingredients they may not be able to afford on their own. Additionally, state-of-the-art equipment is at each student’s fingertips. According to Lipe, the RLC program teaches a well-rounded approach to culinary arts that focuses more on baking and pastries than do other programs of its kind.
“They foster a lot of creativity,” he said. ”They taught us to not just open the book and look at a recipe and prepare it. I always try to do something different. I like to get playful.”
As the Miners’ executive chef, Lipe’s goal is to challenge the typical idea of a meal at the park.
“I’d like for it to be ... a dining destination that also features baseball games,” he said.
He credits RLC Culinary Arts Management with getting him where he is today.
“I love it with Aramark,” he said. “If you are in high school and you think you want to go into culinary arts, get a job in the field. Get a job in the field even if it is at McDonald’s. If you can’t handle being around food at that level, then you are not going to be able to handle it at this level. It’s one of the few professions you can dabble in before you go to school for it. If you want to be a lawyer, you can’t just go and practice law. If you want to be a doctor, you can’t go practice a little medicine and see if you like it. In culinary arts, you have that advantage.”
He said one of the first questions he gets from people who he meets or works with is “Where did you go to school?” He recommends RLC Culinary Arts to anyone looking for a sensational learning experience that can launch a student into a rewarding career.
“The program is outstanding,” he said. “Two thumbs up!”