We had the opportunity to sit down with Culinary Arts student (soon-to-be alumna) Alyssa Tutskey to chat about her path to culinary, the program itself, and some delicious sounding dishes.
What are you studying at Missoula College? When will you graduate?
I’m receiving my Certificate of Applied Science (C.A.S) in Culinary Arts and am excited to be graduating at the end of this semester (Spring 2018). I’m also the Executive Chef for our Capstone Dinner this year, meaning I’m in charge of organizing the dinner.
Why did you decide to study Culinary Arts at Missoula College?
I’ve been interested in Culinary Arts since taking culinary classes in high school, but I also really enjoyed mechanics. When I graduated high school, I felt like I needed to choose between the two, and ended up pursuing mechanics rather than culinary. I actually formerly received a degree from Missoula College in Recreational Power Equipment!
But… I couldn’t stop thinking about food, even though I enjoyed my mechanics-based job. I made the decision to take the plunge when I turned 30 – I quit my job, came back to school to finally pursue Culinary Arts, and haven’t looked back since.
Tell us a little bit about your experience with the program. What is an average day (or week) like for Culinary Arts students?
First things first: you better be on time in the morning! We show up to class at 7 or 8 a.m., depending on the day of the week, and have class until 1 or 2 p.m. respectively. Culinary Arts students need to have everything ready to go for the day – this includes a tidy uniform (there’s a uniform inspection), tools for the day, and any questions on the day’s materials.
With each unit, students are required to fulfill certain required techniques to become ACF (American Culinary Federation) certified. However, we also have the opportunity to learn other techniques for own learning purposes. Homework is a lot more paperwork than I expected! We spend a lot of time researching and typing up recipes, techniques, and reports. Essentially, you have to treat your schooling like a job and take it seriously.
This is a tough one. I really enjoyed garde manager (the art of cold foods) where we learned a lot of techniques you normally wouldn’t have the chance to do at home: preserving foods; sausage making; curing meats and smoking them, creating terrines, pates, and aspic. Right now my favorite class is patisserie; we made sculptures out of sugar today!
Tell us about the students’ experience and connection to Blackfoot Café. How are the rotating (delicious) menus developed? What role do the students play?
The instructors come up with the production for the week and what will be on Blackfoot Café’s menu, based on the criteria that students need to learn how to execute and different techniques the students want to learn. For example, students need to learn how to pan sear and flambé – the menu will reflect this. But, as I mentioned earlier, students always have the opportunity to learn about things they are personally interested in. Maybe this is how to use certain foods in a recipe or a mastering a certain technique. The instructors also listen to everyone who dines in the café: if they really like a dish, it will sometimes stay on the menu for longer.
Students cook in Blackfoot Café until their last semester of the program. This means that their first three semesters are spent in the kitchens cooking around the café’s hours, since all students need to learn to cook in a working kitchen environment.
We try to make everything perfect, but diners should keep in mind that it is still a school and we are still learning! That’s why there are so many different types of food on the menu – it’s us in different stations learning different techniques.
One of the standouts includes a shaved asparagus salad with preserved lemon puree, citrus vinaigrette, spring pea custard, and an egg deep-fried to a soft boil so that the yolk poured right over the salad.
What is your favorite part about the program? What is the most exciting, or impactful, thing that you’ve learned?
I’m really appreciative for our instructors and their knowledge and assistance. They have offered me opportunities that I never expected I’d get to experience, and they are always willing to work with students to help them achieve their goals.
One standout memory was winning third place in the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge in April 2017. I represented the Clark Fork Charcuterie. They are a retail and wholesale producer of locally sourced cured and specialty meats that are traditionally made in old-world style charcuterie.
This is a really tough one. Chef Elliott and Chef Nack have both been really influential on my time at Missoula College. Chef Elliott let me grow in different areas of culinary and helped me experience my love for an array of different foods.
Chef Nack taught me to cook eggs. This might sound silly, but I used to hate cooking them. I never understood why it was necessary for me to learn how to properly cook eggs, yet Chef Nack told us multiple times that we would need this skill. Day after day, I practiced cooking them, using dozens of eggs in the process. I cried many tears over those eggs. And sure enough, during the interview for my current job at The Ranch at Rock Creek, they asked me to prepare eggs. Despite being really nervous and slightly overcooking the eggs, I was lucky enough to get the AM Line Cook position and, after seven months of hard work, was promoted to the Lead AM Line Cook. And since then, I’ve actually gotten compliments on my eggs and have been told that they are the best eggs they (diners) have ever had! This is all thanks to Chef Nack instilling the confidence I needed.
What advice would you give to a student considering studying Culinary Arts?
As long as you are really committed, it will be a fantastic experience. You have to go into the program with your whole heart and stick with it through the ups and downs. There will be tough days, but the rewards of the program itself outweigh them. Our class is boisterous group who have become my family. We stick together, and constantly check-in on each other. They’re friends I’ll have for life.
Also, learn to love doing dishes. Students wash all of their own dishes… and it’s a lot of dishes!
What’s next? Where are you hoping to take your certificate?
After I graduate, I’ll be moving to Phillipsburg full-time and be working my way up in my amazing job at The Ranch at Rock Creek. They are a member of Relais & Châteaux, a collection of gourmet restaurants who serve the cuisine from the world’s best chefs. This connection – I’m hoping – will allow me the opportunity to cook around the world and learn how to prepare high-end dishes. On top of that, the chefs at The Ranch are awesome at teaching and inspiring younger chefs. They will allow me the opportunity to keep on learning and growing my skillset!