In November, B.A. in Culinary Arts student Tony Rogowski visited seven Universidad del Valle de México (UVM) campuses in Mexico, which are all part of the Laureate International Universities network—neither as a student nor a competitor, but as a chef instructor. He was nominated for the trip by School of Culinary Arts Vice President Chris Koetke, who works with UVM to regularly exchange instructors and students. Since Rogowski studied in Italy last year, he planned a three-course Italian menu, which included everything from basil oil and pasta to apricot mostarda.
In many ways, his first experiences as an instructor were like a competition. He had to keep track of time, account for missing or replaced ingredients (apricot, for example, wasn’t easy to source) and navigate the kitchen equipment, which varied at each location. And because he has demonstrated in front of as many as 100,000 people at McCormick Place in Chicago and has competed internationally, he compared these experiences to receiving a mystery basket of ingredients: “I just went with it,” he laughs.
Another herb, epazote, was provided for its similarity to basil, but its flavor profile is more astringent. In class, they ended up balancing it with sugar and salt. “The herb has a very strong flavor,” he says. “I focused the lesson instead solely on the aesthetics,” to make it more achievable for students.
The parmesan cheese he received at each campus was also different in almost every case and most often more like mozzarella once melted, which caused him to switch from his plan to create a Monta Carre sauce to a béchamel to demonstrate the lesson. As he made changes, he explained both approaches so students understood the lesson he’d planned as well as the sauce they made.
He also credits Chef Instructor Elaine Sikorski for helping him polish the menu and his overall skills through intensive preparations before he left Chicago. “She helped me tweak and make adjustments to the recipes, and let me come by anytime to run through everything,” he says. “I’m grateful for her support.”
What Rogowski enjoyed most was sitting down with the students, in partnership with a translator, to discuss their goals as professionals and their approach to various tasks in the kitchen. Many students were nervous, so he made it as casual as possible, often sitting down with students in a circle or at the edge of the stage, to break the tension and start what became very rewarding conversations.
“To be a successful chef, you have to be able to teach and work with what you have,” Rogowski explains. “This trip allowed me to build skills in those areas. I also tried to make them laugh and interrupt their thought processes when they were overthinking something. We talked through the recipes and the problems they encountered, and I pushed them to challenge themselves. It was very rewarding.”