Culinary students at South Puget Sound Community College quickly pick up on a very important hallmark of the SPSCC culinary program, that everything learned will be solidified through real-world experience. The students’ culinary education culminated in a real-life catering event on October 6, for The Experience, the SPSCC Foundation’s annual fundraiser.

SPSCC Foundation The Experience Chef Scott McLean
Chef Scott McLean thanking the SPSCC Foundation and attendees at this year’s Experience. Photo credit: Sara Gettys

The Experience hosted over 400 people in Building 22 on the SPSCC campus to support the Foundation’s mission of scholarships and student success at SPSCC. The event raised $464,000 for student scholarships and was complete with a flavorful menu and live music from world-renowned jazz pianist Michael Kaeshammer, to complement the night’s New Orleans theme. The evening was supported through community and corporate sponsorships. Top supporters of the events were Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel, WSECU, and the Thurston County Economic Development Council.

Lucky Eagle also supports The Experience through a long history of teaming up with the SPSCC culinary department to cater the event. In previous years, the SPSCC culinary department mainly prepared appetizers for The Experience Lucky Eagle prepared the main course. Roles were reversed at this year’s version of the event. It was a new adventure for the culinary students as they were recruited to prepare a full three-course meal for the night’s guests, which included a soup, salad and entrée course. SPSCC professor of culinary arts, Chef Scott McLean, says, “Lucky Eagle has supported us through every bit of it. They are a big part of what we are doing here. Their chef is a graduate from SPSCC, so he was excited for the opportunity for the students to cater, as well.”

SPSCC Foundation The Experience Sit Down Dinner
Guests at The Experience enjoying the food prepared by SPSCC culinary students. Photo credit: Sara Gettys

Chef McLean teaches second-year students the art of classical European cooking from fromage, a type of cheesemaking, to charcuterie, a method of preparing meat. McLean takes those techniques and puts them into practice at both the Percival Restaurant and Clipper Café, both student-run dining establishments on the SPSCC campus. Chef McLean, who has been a culinary professor at SPSCC for three years, is so proud to see bustling dining rooms and progressing skill in his culinary students.

“For me,” explains Chef McLean, “I love when students get to the point in the second year where their skills are refining, their craft is refining and they get excited about plate presentations, flavor profiles and garnishes. They start to find their own style through that and what represents them in the culinary world.”

SPSCC Foundation The Experience Salad Dish
The salad course of the night, prepared by SPSCC culinary students.
Photo credit: Sara Gettys

Chef McLean is grateful to the SPSCC Foundation for the opportunity to put culinary theory into practice, as that is one of the pillars of the SPSCC culinary department’s curriculum. “One of the biggest things we try to do, is to teach industry standards,” says Chef McLean. “Our culture is two restaurants. We’re busy. Students feel it. They feel the busyness and when they get out into the world, it’s not going to be culture shock for them.”

As for training culinary students fresh in the industry, Chef McLean reported that it took preparation and communication to make the event successful. “I think you just have to be very organized on the planning end and map out each day,” Chef McLean says of preparing for the event. “It’s plated, 400 people,” Chef McLean recounts. “It’s a hustle and the students work hard to prepare food all week long and that was on top of their studies. They learned how to execute a 400 plated dinner which is something that would be in larger hotels or convention centers. This year we took on more as we are growing as a program.”

SPSCC Foundation The Experience Student Food Preparation
Students in the SPSCC culinary department partnered with the culinary team from Lucky Eagle Casino to prepare food for The Experience. Photo credit: Sara Gettys

Chef McLean could feel the encouragement in the room from the many attendees of The Experience. “I can’t say enough about how much support the guests give the students,” says McLean. “Especially the culinary students and the interaction with them. I felt that big time. It was overwhelming how much the guests cared.”

The SPSCC Foundation works within the community to support and engage students at SPSCC, including through scholarships and grants. Chef McLean also praises the SPSCC Foundation for their involvement with the culinary program and the opportunity for the culinary students to come together toward a common goal. “The students understand what the Foundation does with scholarships and student support,” explains Chef McLean. “They understand why they are doing this and how lucky we are to have the Foundation to support us and support our students in any way they can. I think the students really rose to that occasion.”

To learn more about the Foundation and the work they do, you can visit the SPSCC Foundation website. To learn more about the SPSCC Culinary program, you can visit SPSCC’s website, or enjoy a meal prepared by SPSCC Culinary at their Percival Restaurant or join an event such as their quarterly Food and Wine Paired Dinner – the next one is on February 14, 2019.

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