Thanks to reality food television, the rising generation of culinary students may have a skewed notion of life in the food business. But one internship program in South Carolina has a very simple way of debunking the cult of celebrity chefs and five-star restaurants: Get students into a noncommercial kitchen and hand them a whisk.
Providence Hospital (Downtown) and its foodservice provider, Metz Culinary Management, have partnered with C.A. Johnson High School Health Sciences Magnet to create an internship program that is inspiring interest in the healthcare foodservice industry and opening career paths.
“We had the idea that we could teach students the basics that they’re going to need in any food, kitchen or chef job, while showing them that the job is so much more than what is shown on the Food Network,” explains Christopher Diehl, executive chef with Metz at Providence. “It’s creative, but it’s also managing storeroom operations and purchasing decisions as well as leadership and motivating staff.”
The internship program began in February 2015 after the high school got in touch with Metz. Each semester, three seniors or juniors from the school’s culinary arts class are selected to spend a month and a half working in Diehl’s kitchen.
“They come three times a week for three hours each,” he says. “I begin with a 15-minute talk on how their classroom curriculum relates to what we do in the kitchen.”
Diehl uses the class syllabus to guide the internship but says he always starts with food safety. “We go over hand washing, food temperatures and storage issues such as where to put the prepared food versus the raw food and rotating items in the walk-in fridge.”
He then pairs the students with a cook and assigns them a project for the day. “At first, we expect them to help us prepare dishes and pan food, but by the end of the internship, they’re tasked with creating their own dishes.”
Recent interns were instructed to create their own dessert cups for the hospital cafeteria’s grab-and-go station using a large box of different flavored puddings and toppings.
Diehl says while some of the seniors have had fast food jobs, for many others, the internship is not only their first exposure to a professional kitchen, but also their first job anywhere. “So I make sure we cover the professional side of things like making sure they’re tidy, presentable and punctual and can manage a relationship with a boss.”
The internship also exposes them to two sides of foodservice. The students work with cooks in retail, dishing up food for purchase in the hospital cafeteria, but they also work in patient services, where meals adhere to dietary restrictions.
“A hospital kitchen offers a great learning opportunity because it’s such a big operation,” Diehl explains. “We get to show the students that there’s another side to food than just restaurant kitchens and getting one’s name in the paper. I take them up to the patients’ rooms to expose them to the healthcare aspect of foodservice that can be just as fulfilling.”
Such experience has a lasting effect. Diehl says a couple of the seniors expressed an interest in applying for jobs in Diehl’s kitchen after graduation.
And it’s not just the students who are benefiting. “When the students show up, the whole vibe of the kitchen changes,” Diehl says. “My staff looks forward to the kids coming. It gives them a chance to share what they do. Some of them work very hard on food that goes up to patients they never see. This gives them a personal connection in their work.”
“From a chef’s perspective,” Diehl continues, “the internship has proven to be a great team-building exercise where my staff and I come together around something bigger than ourselves.”
At the end of the intensive program, the students not only have a great new line of experience on their resume, they have a polished work ethic, applied kitchen skills and the cherry on top of this dessert cup: a crisp, white chef’s jacket from Metz.