The Top 3 Kitchen Classroom Lessons Culinary & Catering Students Love

From specialty luncheons to charity dinners to surprise food truck appearances, our live catering events are always a big hit with both students and the public. But what you might not know is that some of the most exciting things we do here at the UT Culinary & Catering Program happen behind-the-scenes.

In order for our students to host a live function successfully, they must first learn how in our corporate kitchen “classroom.” Over the course of 12 weeks, chefs and educators from all over come in to teach our students their specialties, meaning our classes cover a wide range of topics with each topic being taught by that expert. With so many classes to choose from, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but here are the top three our students love:

1. Ice Carving

When students register for our culinary and catering program, their primary goal is to learn how to cook well enough to make a career out of it. We teach them how to do that and much more. With our ice carving class, we teach our students how to create beautiful ice sculptures, which can be used as centerpieces for buffet and dining table arrangements. Food for the eyes, if you will.

Because the ice carving class is such a fun thing to watch, we set up outside the UT Convention Center in downtown Knoxville for public viewing. The carving takes about two and a half hours, so our students also prepare and serve hors d’oeuvres to patrons who show up.

UT Culinary & Catering Program Ice Carving
UT Culinary & Catering student Rebecca Dunn carving her first ice sculpture under the supervision of Chef Deron Little.

The ice carving class is taught by Chef Deron Little, a competition ice carver, ACF certified executive chef, and owner of Seasons restaurant in Farragut, Tennessee. Students are given a paper template, but after the image is outlined, it’s up to them to get the 3D shape correct.

Rebecca Dunn, a 2016 graduate of our program, was challenged to transform her block of ice into a swan.

“I have never held a chainsaw in such a capacity,” Dunn said. “It’s thrilling and it’s frightening at the very same second. It’s wonderful.”

Chef Greg Eisele joked that some of the carvings may come out looking like fleas, but that’s okay: “Culinary school is more than learning how to cook chicken. We want to give our students a well-rounded experience. Not everything should be done for a grade.”

Watch this video to see for yourself what our ice carving class looks like.

Secrets of Sauces with Pasta2. Sauces

Never underestimate the importance of sauce. Even if your dish isn’t that impressive to start with, a good sauce can turn it from so-so to out-of-this-world. The opposite is also true: a horrible sauce can spoil your food no matter how great it was beforehand. For this reason, we dedicate an entire class session to sauces.

Our students learn to make traditional sauces for dishes like chicken fricassee and veal marsala among others. They also practice creating rich and flavorful double and triple stocks using ingredients that would normally be discarded. Our sauce class also includes learning how to make glazes, reductions, and even salad dressings.

UT Culinary & Catering Program Gabrielle FulkersonGabrielle Fulkerson, a 2017 graduate, said this class was one of the most useful and challenging she took during her time with us.

“There are so many things you can make out of basic sauces. If you think about it too much, you’ll find yourself in mental overload,” Fulkerson said. “We had a great teacher though who was very patient and didn’t rush us to finish on time. We were encouraged to practice at home and then come back and try again.”

If you’re interested in a taste of what our 12-week certification course has to offer, but aren’t ready to make that full commitment, we do offer a two-hour course called “Secrets of Sauces” where you’ll learn similar concepts. You can learn more about that class and our other cooking class offerings here.

3. Pastries & Quick Breads

UT Culinary & Catering Pastry MakingBaking pastries and quick breads is a simple, yet need-to-know skill for anyone wanting to call themselves a chef. Like sauces, there are thousands of different recipes out there and what you choose to bake will depend on the meal you’re serving, the event you’re hosting, or the business you’re starting. Get a head start before you enroll in our program and try out a few of these quick bread recipes.

Our pastries and quick breads class is taught by Chef “DJ,” an executive chef who has acquired three ACF certifications (CEC, CFBE, CHE) throughout his 35-year career. Chef DJ has led culinary teams at country clubs, cruise ships, hotels, and culinary schools from New York to Texas. Now that he’s in Knoxville, he spends time in our kitchen classroom sharing his knowledge with our students and our students love him.

Shona House UT Culinary & Catering ProgramIf baking is your passion and you want to turn it into a career, check out Chef Lessons: What You Should Know Learn Before Opening a Bakery. We’ve graduated several students who went on to become big hits in the baking industry, including Shona House, chef-owner of Faith Baked Cakes and instructor of several baking and catering classes at the UT Culinary & Catering Program.

Want to see what else we have to offer behind-the-scenes? The best way to find out is by attending one of our free information sessions where you’ll meet our culinary director (Chef Greg), tour our kitchen classroom, and enjoy a taste of what you’ll learn to cook during your 12 weeks with us. You can register for an information online or by contacting Pam Quick at quickp@utk.edu or 865-974-3181.