NTC Student Chefs Demo Cooking At Trade Show

Aug 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 20-1: Native Voices, Modern Media, Tribal College News
By Sunnie Redhouse

CULINARY CULTURAL CELEBRATION. Lena Natan, a first-year student at the Navajo Technical College's culinary department, serves food at the Celebration of Native Culture in San Diego. Reznet photo by Tetona Dunlap

Far from home on the Navajo Reservation, four culinary arts students made their largest cooking debut for hundreds of hungry strangers at the five-star US Grant Hotel. The beginning students traveled 730 miles from Crownpoint, NM, to downtown San Diego to share their culinary skills at the National Indian Gaming Association’s 17th annual meeting and trade show.

“I’ve worked for the biggest restaurant in New Mexico, but this is pretty big for me,” says Travis Freeland, 23, one of the four students chosen from Navajo Technical College (NTC, Crownpoint, NM) to participate in a “mini internship” during the four-day convention. The students helped prepare a number of dishes at the event, including sweet corn polenta, king crab legs and poached shrimp with red chili cocktail sauce, and herb-roasted buffalo ribeye.

“This is my first time working at a big hotel like this,” Freeland says. Freeland and the other students — Dewanye Rintale, Lena Natan, and Karla Howard — came with instructor Joseph Chapa and worked with the hotel chefs preparing meals for the event.

Like his colleagues, Rintale, 27, from Window Rock, AZ, has enjoyed and practiced the art of cooking since he was a young adult. “I like to cook all kinds of food,” Rintale says. “That’s what made me pick culinary arts.” He hopes to work on a cruise line once he gains more experience in the field, he says.

About 50 more students are enrolled in NTC’s 6-year-old culinary arts program. The college just launched a 2-year culinary arts program and is looking to start a certified program.

Chapa, a baking instructor at NTC, says it is one of three or four chef schools in New Mexico. In those programs, Native Americans have shown a great interest in the field. “I think a lot of it has to do with watching the chef shows on TV and people getting interested in cooking, and saying, ‘Well, our food is delicious, too,’” says Chapa, who has been teaching for 10 years.

Howard, 19, from Twin Lakes, NM, says she’s gained a lot from the hands-on experience. “What I’ve learned here is experience in the kitchen. You have to be committed to what you’re doing,” Howard says. “You have to really work hard and know what you’re doing and be responsible for everyone and just have fun.”

Janelle Atcitty, trade show coordinator, says the opportunity not only helps Native students obtain experience but also helps open their eyes to different career fields. “They got hands-on experience working individually with the chefs,” Atcitty says. “I hope they see that there’s a true career field for them out there in this area, and that it’s a well-paid career. They can actually work in a tribally owned facility.”

Reprinted by permission of reznet (www.reznetnews.org), the online journalism training and mentoring program for Native American college students around the country.

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