The SUNY Adirondack culinary arts program has opened their doors to the public at their culinary center, featuring a full dining room and an open kitchen. I recently had lunch with students from this semester’s basic food prep and dining service classes.
How often when dining, do you get to see the chefs in action? For some of these future chefs their experience at the culinary center is their first on a hot line. The prep area was a busy scene when I arrived, as students were focused on finishing their mise en place (“putting in place”, or setting up) in preparation for lunch.
I opted for the bar area and decided on a vegetarian cream of mushroom soup, garnished with crème fraiche, fried mushrooms and fresh parsley. It was flavorful with a consistency on point. I decided on the beef for my second course and my entrée arrived just after I finished my soup – tornados of beef tenderloin over toasted barley, served with a brown butter sauce, finished with madeira demi glaze, and garnished with fried leeks. This dish hit the spot, being beautifully prepared, nice and tender. Last, but not least, I had the maple cheesecake, made by chef Linda Himelrick’s advanced baking class. It had a real Adirondack feel, especially with maple season underway.
I spoke with both culinary instructors, Chef Mathew Bolton and Chef Megan Diehl, about how this particular lunch service went. “Some students have anxious nerves”, Chef Bolton told me, saying he thought the students did well despite the fact that for many of them this was their first professional public cooking experience. Being a chef myself, I know first hand that the kitchen can be a very stressful environment, where handling adversity is a must, but the rewards are fulfilling. Chef Diehl, said this semester’s class had so far been “spectacular” and was impressed with their enthusiasm and willingness to work together as a team. Communication, team work, and order are essential for the success of any kitchen brigade, she said.
Chef Bolton started his career at Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown. Beginning as a dishwasher he worked his way through the ranks. “I fell in love with the organized chaos of culinary life,” he said, adding that working for the many great chefs that came through the Friends Lake Inn as a young cook helped him develop his own skills and stay focused on his future goals. At the age of 21, he graduated from SUNY Adirondack’s culinary program and was appointed sous chef at the Inn. A short time later the Inn’s chef left and Bolton got the opportunity to express his talents in the kitchen as an executive chef.
He began teaching at SUNY Adirondack in 2012 and furthered his education at SUNY Oswego with a teaching degree. He worked at the Friends Lake Inn until the fall of 2014, when he took over the culinary program as his mentor Chef Bill Steele retired. Chef Bolton has had his recipes published in cook books and periodicals, and he was named one of America’s best chefs by Best Chefs America from 2013 to 2015.
Chef Diehl learned to cook from her mother, who she said always guided her to choose homemade, healthier choices. She learned to preserve food from her garden at a young age and still cherishes the fancy brown bag lunches she brought to school. Growing up in the tourist town of Bolton Landing, she’s long been familiar with restaurant life, but she’s also a graduate of SUNY Adirondack, SUNY Geneeseo and Natural Gourmet Institute. Chef Diehl has worked in the industry from Wyoming to Miami, but feels she still learns so much from her students. “Each time I step in the kitchen,” she said, “I am learning from the students just as much as they are learning from me”.
The SUNY Adirondack culinary center serves lunch every Wednesday and Thursday through April 23; seatings start at noon and run through 12:45. The menu offers an appetizer, entrée and dessert with beverages, all for $13.95 (tax included). Seating is limited, so reservations are required. You can reserve your spot by calling (518) 832-7725 or via email at [email protected].
Photos, from above: Chef Bolton at left, with his student behind the line; the vegetarian cream of mushroom soup; the beef tenderloin entree; and below, Chef Diehl works with a student.