In honor of our partnership with Culinard – The Culinary Institute of Virginia College, in this regular feature Chef’s Roll highlights a featured chef or program director from Culinard’s esteemed faculties across the country. This month, Chef’s Roll talked with Pastry Chef Instructor Jeannie Stephenson at the Culinard Campus in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Chef Jeannie Stephenson has been with the Culinard team since April 2014. New to North Carolina, having moved directly from Chicago, she brings along her most recent experience as a pastry chef instructor at both Le Cordon Bleu Chicago and Washburne Culinary Institute. Today she specializes in celebration cakes and sharing her passion for baking with the students of Culinard Greensboro.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
During the late 90s I worked for a ranch in Colorado, leading horseback trail rides for tourists. I was injured during a trail accident and no longer wished to ride the horses after the accident. I switched to driving the horse-drawn wagons and sleighs, in addition to cooking for the dinner rides at our historic, gold rush-era cabin. That is where I fell in love with cooking. In 2001 I decided to leave that job, in pursuit of education at a culinary school in Pittsburgh, PA.
Is there an instructor from your own education who stands out in your memory?
My favorite instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Pittsburgh was Chef Ron Herbinko. Chef Herbie was such an approachable and loving person; he was like a father to me. He was also an exemplary chef whose passion in the kitchen was unsurpassed. I found him to be a great role model and mentor. I still communicate with him, to this day.
What do you love most about being an educator with Culinard?
Culinard Greensboro has a fantastic kitchen laboratory, with many useful resources and equipment that I did not have available at the other schools where I taught. Having this beautiful, and well-equipped kitchen space makes it easy for me to get the students excited about baking.
Can you summarize a typical day on the campus?
I begin each day by opening the kitchen and setting up my demo station with my small wares and sanitation buckets. Then I coordinate my lesson plan for the day, and write the objectives on the white board in the classroom. At around 7:45 a.m. the students begin to arrive and I welcome them to class, and we talk about whatever is going on in their lives, their children, jobs, etc. At 8 a.m. we begin lecture with “line-up”, where they stand up and allow me to check their uniforms to make sure they are clean and ready for the kitchen.
After line-up, I will lecture for 40-90 minutes, information pertaining to whatever project we are working on in class. We discuss the reading from their textbook, techniques, and the daily recipes. After lecture, we head into the kitchen, where the students sanitize their work surfaces, and set out their personal equipment. Once all the students are ready to begin, I will demo 1-3 recipes, and then the students start their own production. At 12:30 p.m., we finish production, and clean up the kitchen. By 1:15 p.m. we conclude the day by briefly talking about what to expect tomorrow, and a review of their homework assignment.
Best piece of advice you give your students?
You are the only person who stands in the way of your success. Make no excuses, and take ownership of your own goals!
What is one of your proudest career moments to date?
Three of my students from Culinard have left the state to complete their pastry externship at the world-renowned 5 Star/5 diamond Broadmoor Hotel & Resort in Colorado Springs, CO. One of the students was even hired there, as a full time pastry assistant! I am proud that they discovered their love of baking and pastry in my kitchen, and that they desired to begin their journey by emulating my career path.
How would you describe your cooking philosophy in five words or less?
Colorful, comforting, and fun.
What was the last dish you cooked at home?
I made a dozen homemade pizzas for my son’s 5th birthday party. I mixed the dough and the sauce myself, and even tossed the dough in front of some of my guests, like a real pizzaiola! Everyone was impressed; it was a fun way to make my son’s birthday party memorable.