Five-course meal gives students, community a taste of gourmet

October 12, 2013    |    Student Life Center, 3701 Dean Drive    |    Fort Wayne

The Friday before A Reason to Taste: Golden Gala, about a dozen Ivy Tech Community College Northeast students and employees tried their best to turn the gymnasium on North Campus into a banquet hall.

And they succeeded.

The space was no longer a place for basketball, as the hoops had been raised, tucked into the rafters. Glass chandeliers and gold and black paper lanterns hung from ceiling beams, and a table stood at half-court, awaiting the Ivy Tech 50th anniversary ice sculpture to serve as the room’s centerpiece the following evening.

Dinner tables were set with floating candles in vases, and colored lights against the walls created a soothing ambiance not often associated with the squeak of gym shoes during a game of pick-up.

In its second year, Ivy Tech Northeast’s A Reason to Taste fundraiser dinner and silent auction on Oct. 12 drew more than 200 people and raised nearly $60,000. One-hundred percent of the money benefited the Ivy Tech Foundation, dedicated to student scholarships.

Which means the reason behind the Reason is students. That Fort Wayne community members get to experience a five-course gourmet dinner is just the icing in the macaroon.

And A Reason to Taste is nothing if not a concoction of experiences.

Experience No. 1: Drinking soup through a straw

Though the silent auction did not begin until 6 p.m., bids had been made by 5:50 p.m.  With more than 90 items up for auction, guests could choose from a range of items including vacations, restaurant gift certificates, spa packages and a child-sized SUV complete with roll bar.

As students in black pants–white shirt attire worked the room with trays of hors d’oeuvres, patrons tried a variety of bite-sized treats, including one that left some befuddled: a celery root soup, served with a small straw. While some tried to use the straw as a spoon, a server said it’s common to drink soup through a straw in France.

Several years ago, Ivy Tech Northeast’s culinary banquet wasn’t quite the lavish affair it is today. The set-up was similar, says Andrew Welch, executive director of Marketing and Communications, but it didn’t have quite the impact for student scholarships through table sales and auction items.

After a seven-year hiatus, Ivy Tech reinvented the event in 2012 with great success, and 2013’s banquet was the biggest yet, due in large part to corporate sponsors: presenting sponsor Parkview Health, reception sponsor Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 166–Fort Wayne, and 16 other corporate table sponsors.

John Brooks, an Ivy Tech Foundation board member, pointed out that helping fund student scholarships is not only good for students, but good for Fort Wayne.

“I like the fact that so many of the students are actually working and improving their situation to work,” Brooks said. “If we can have more people that can have good-paying jobs because of the education, that’s good for everyone.”

Experience No. 2: Having food change the flavor of wine

The five-course dinner began with a tasting plate: a vanilla-seared scallop and marinated tuna with wasabi, paired with Drouhin Macon-Village Chardonnay.

The flavor of the wine changed after taking a bite of the tuna, Deborah Morris pointed out to her husband, Kevin. Deborah is an adjunct faculty member who teaches English at Ivy Tech Northeast.

Indeed the tuna seemed to give the Chardonnay a softer, more pleasant flavor.

Experience No. 3: Googling a dish’s name to figure out what’s on the plate

For the meal’s second course, student servers brought out field greens tossed with duck confit, herb vinaigrette, and prosciutto.

As Kevin Morris wondered if  “confit” meant something like “duck liver,” given the meat’s color and gamey flavor, a Google search showed that “confit” is a technique where a piece of meat is cooked in its own fat. A student later confirmed that the meat came from duck gizzards.

For the main course, students served beef Bourgogne, which was so tender, it required just a fork to cut. The meal concluded with a cheese plate and a tasting trio of desserts: pear frangipane tart (“frangipane” is an almond-flavored paste), pumpkin pots de crème (essentially the creamy inside of pumpkin pie in a small glass pot), and a chocolate macaroon.

Monique Causey, one of the many hospitality administration students preparing the feast, poked her head into the banquet to see the Student Life Center’s transformed gymnasium.

“Ivy Tech’s been good to me,” she said. “When I walked into this room, it made me proud to be a student.”

Causey will participate in the Mystery Basket Competition this January, which has hospitality administration students creating dishes from pre-selected ingredients. Winners study cooking in Europe for two weeks and create the A Reason to Taste menu.

“When I originally started this (program), I wanted to study in France,” she said. “I wanted it to be a part of my life. If I got to go, it would mean everything.”



Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 166 - Fort Wayne


Asher Agency, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, BFGoodrich, Brooks Construction Company, Inc., City of Fort Wayne, Do It Best Corp., Alice and Pete Eshelman, Fort Wayne Metals, The Hagerman Group, Lincoln Financial Group, Lutheran Health Network, MSKTD & Associates, Inc., Northeast Regional Chamber/Northeast Regional Partnership, Northern Indiana Public Service Company, STAR Financial Bank, Sweetwater

For future volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, please contact Mary Jo Toenges at 260-481-2243 or

All proceeds benefit student scholarships through the Ivy Tech Foundation.

An ice sculpture with the Ivy Tech 50th logo stood as the gym’s centerpiece, flanked by more than 90 silent auction items.

Kelli and Kristin Packnett, planning commitee members, at A Reason to Taste.

Hospitality administration students had a makeshift work table set up just outside the Student Life Center Gymnasium for food prep.

Students from the School of Technology welded and painted this butterfly chair, which guest Jim Kratzat (an architect at MSKTD & Associates Inc.) won at the silent auction. Kratzat has placed the chair in his butterfly garden.