C'est la vie! College reinstates popular fundraising dinner for scholarships

Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder, and apparently it leaves the taste buds longing as well.

After a seven-year hiatus, Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast reinstated its popular fundraising dinner for scholarships through “A Reason to Taste: Southern France” on Oct. 20.

The Student Life Center Gymnasium was transformed into a grape-harvest celebration, where patrons enjoyed a six-course dinner. Guests were welcomed with a glass of Champagne and hors d’oeuvres that paid homage to the occasion, which included candy-inspired shrimp lollipops with lime foam and popcorn tossed in escargot butter. Roasted duck breast with chocolate port-wine reduction was the main course, and four wine pairings complemented the meal.

Faculty and students from the college’s Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry Arts programs prepared the haute cuisine, while numerous faculty, staff and students from various academic programs and offices acted as multiple-hat-wearing volunteers.

“You can’t find this kind of amazing experience for our students; you have to create it,” said event chair Sandi Kemmish, who regarded her personal involvement as “an incredible opportunity.”

The orchestration of the event did not go unnoticed by the dinner guests, either. 

“I really loved seeing the pride on the students’ faces," said Parkview Health CEO Mike Packnett, whose employer was the event’s presenting sponsor. "It was obvious they had worked really hard to make this a great night, and they delivered a great experience.

“My wife, Donna, and I attend a number of community events throughout the year, and this event instantly became one of our favorites,” he continued. “It’s great to see that Chancellor (Jerrilee) Mosier is really raising the bar in all programs across the campus. We’re very honored to be a part of that journey to excellence.”

Winners from the 2012 Mystery Basket Competition participated in a two-week culinary tour of Southern France last May. From left to right, they include Ryan Messman, Chris Kellum, Michelle Aschliman, Jeremy Blakely, Liat Peters, Lisa Aldrich, Mercedes Lockhart and Brian Goshert. Chef Todd Downs (kneeling), who was a judge for the competition, was the group’s chaperone. The menu for “A Reason to Taste: Southern France” was largely inspired by the culinary education the student chefs received during their travel abroad.  

Competition winners travel to world’s culinary mecca

For a few student chefs attending Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast, the shared title of Mystery Basket Competition winner proved to be the “crème de la crème” of their education, as they bid “au revoir” to Fort Wayne and “bon jour” to Paris.

Twenty-four hopefuls competed for one of the top honors last spring during the college’s annual cooking and baking contest judged by professional chefs. Eight victors emerged and attended a two-week culinary tour of Southern France. The winners’ culinary adventures abroad played an integral role in the menu selection for “A Reason to Taste: Southern France.”

With an ambitious itinerary that included visits to Roquefort cheese cellars near Rodez, a trout farm in Fay sur Lignon and a chocolatier in Lyon, the trip exposed the student chefs to haute cuisine through specialty dinners in their honor and expert food preparation techniques practiced in select training kitchens.

“We duplicated tonight’s dishes almost exactly as we had them in France,” said Chef Todd Downs, who served as the group’s chaperone. “The wines were very similar to the wines we had there, but most of the wines we tasted in France were exclusive to the areas we were in, with little of it being exported to the states. The students also went through the meal courses in the development process and decided on their favorites to consider for the dinner. Then we did trials and tastings, practicing them until they were perfect.”

Culinary Arts student and contest winner Jeremy Blakely said he regards the travel experience as “a breath of fresh air” to the way he approaches his profession. He added that he remains in awe over the way the French hosts treat and respect food. As Blakely staged the evening’s hors d’oeuvres, he shared, “With tonight’s presentation, the guests are going to experience big flavors and twists on food textures that are different than what they’re accustomed to in Fort Wayne.”

Ice sculpture by Jim Houser