INA, Ill. – More than a hundred Rend Lake College Culinary Arts students, friends and family turned out Wednesday night for the program’s open house held in the Private Dining Area. The big menu item – aside from spring rolls, BBQ sliders and a table full of fare – was the new team of chefs who will be training the students in attendance. Each chef instructor talked about what areas of expertise he or she brings to the table.
“This has been a great event. I’m just delighted with the turnout and I appreciate all the questions that were asked,” Lead Instructor Robert Wilson said while cleaning up. His team includes Sullivan University graduates Brad Stout and Nicole Black, and Jeff Fairbanks, who has a background with the program at RLC.
Wilson, with 38 years of experience in the industry, most recently taught at the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Ariz. Before that he spent 13 years at the Alaska Culinary Academy where he served as a department head. His culinary journey started in 1973 with a job as a Sicilian delicatessen bus boy in downtown San Diego. He was hooked. Now he teaches others the trade he learned as an apprentice who became a Journeyman Cook and practiced for long hours as an executive chef at a variety of venues. He is a Certified American Culinary Federation Executive Chef, ACF Culinary Educator, ACF Approved Certification Examiner and a Food Service Management Professional through the National Restaurant Association. His favorite thing to cook – this week – is BBQ.
Fairbanks, a graduate of the Rend Lake program, has taught part-time there for the past two years. Prior to that he worked as the Rend Lake Resort Executive Chef and then at Brehm Preparatory school in Carbondale. His first job was as a cook at his uncle’s BBQ restaurant. He has cooked for many years, but not always to pay the bills. In 2000, Fairbanks left the factory floor where he worked for 14 years. He went back to school at RLC to pursue his dream of cooking.
“Eventually I knew I was going to get it worked back around,” he said. “Once my kids graduated from high school and they were all set up for college, I knew exactly what I was going to do.”
Stout holds degrees in culinary arts, and baking and pastry arts from the National Center for Hospitality Services at Sullivan University. He is a four-time ACF medalist, and has a decade experience working as a sous chef and executive chef in the industry. He specializes in chocolate sculptures, among other techniques, and particularly enjoys making sausages.
Black, an adjunct instructor, will teach baking and pastry arts in the RLC program, along with other classes. She specialized in baking and pastry arts at the Louisville-based Sullivan. When asked about her favorite culinary concoction, Black simply replied, “I like to make cake.”
Questions from students and their families were constant for nearly an hour at the open house. Whether it was about the upcoming class schedule, clubs and activities, or something personal; the team of instructors answered every one.
Stefany Williams of Mt. Vernon is a returning sophomore to the program who is particularly excited to learn more about creating chocolate sculptures. “They seem like they are going to work really good together,” she said of her new instructors. “I think they have high expectations of everybody. I’m really excited to see what they are going to bring to the table.”
Laura Finstad, the mother of two RLC culinary arts students from Anna, said she was impressed by the team’s professionalism and personality – not to mention the spread they put out for the guests. “I like them. They were knowledgeable and they gave the kids honest answers,” said Finstad.
New student Amy Ferando of Ewing said she thought the open house was very informational.
“I think they are going to work well together.”
Classes at RLC start Monday but space is still available in the program. For additional information, call 618-437-5321, Ext. 1266.