Q&A: Tyler White, University of Tennessee Chef Instructor

Tyler White, University of Tennessee chef instructor, will supervise three summer-session lunches at UT's Ready for the World Cafe, open to the public and planned and served by Pellissippi State culinary arts students. The Italian-themed lunch is Aug. 1, the French Aug. 8, and the Spanish Aug. 13.

What can a diner expect at a Ready for the World luncheon?

Guests will come to an authentic buffet prepared and run by students. There will be classical foods of the country, a three- or four-course meal.

How did you set the menu?

This is all based on what the students have learned this semester. They're all juniors in the culinary program, and that's when we do International cuisine covering French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Ordinarily the menu for Ready the World Cafe events is preset, but this summer we did something a little different and allowed students to prepare their own menus.

Do the Pellissippi culinary students go to school year ‘round?

They go for four semesters back to back—it's an accelerated program. For the first two semesters, they're in the lab kitchen 12 hours a week. Then once they start their internship, they're in the kitchen eight hours a week. That's still a lot, because most of the students are also taking general education credits, moving towards an associate's degree. Upon completion of the program they'll have an associate's in business administration with a concentration in culinary arts. Most double-major so they also get an associate's degree in hospitality management from Pellissippi.

Are they really employable afterwards?

Oh definitely. We have upon completion students working for Blackberry Farms, or some top chefs locally. Chef Deron Little, who owns Seasons restaurants, is on our advisory board and has employed some students coming out. Other students have gone the route of working at Kroger Marketplace cafes, and they're choosing recipes to put on the buffets—we have a lot of presence there. Most are making above $15 an hour, and we have not had a single student have issues with getting an internship. Those are paid internships, and students who don't have previous work experience, and they are making $9-$10 an hour.

Are any of the students older?

We are unique in that sense. In any one class we might have a 16-year-old, and right now our oldest student already has her Ph. D, and is 67. A lot of the older students are coming back for a new career, or they're retired and just want to learn a new thing. We've had a lot of students come on the GI Bill, using that to further their culinary education.

Which of the international cuisines is most popular with the students?

Probably the Japanese, though that's not always the most popular with our clients. We have a chef come in and teach sushi, and all the students get the mats out, learn how to cut fish, make sauces, all that. Sysco, which is involved heavily as a sponsor, sends an executive chef out to teach the French cooking and that's also very popular with the students.

Will there be white tablecloths?

It depends on what students plan for the decor; they're trying to match it to the cuisine. And each table is going to have appetizers—warm olives and antipasto for the Italian, and for the French the students will be passing around escargot they learned to prepare in class.

Do any students shrink from the serving aspect of the luncheons?

No, we break them of that fear very, very early freshman year. We do a lot of events where they're exposed to the public and serving people, like chili cook-offs and wing cook-offs—we're out in the community. Before the Italian lunch, for example, the school-age childcare group Shades of Development is coming to our facility and we're going to teach them the science of cooking by making ice cream in a bag. The kids were reading The Magic School Bus Gets Baked Into a Cake so I had my students watch the cartoon so they could plan the project. We're going to the Public Defenders' Office summer care program for at-risk youth that afternoon to show them, too.

Are the lunches popular?

It's as close as we can come to a real world atmosphere for the students. Because they're going to feed the public, in the only profession where everyone notes instantaneously whether you did good or bad. You don't have to wait for some boss and a performance review. Events like this help them get used to the reality: everyone's a critic.

Luncheons cost $12; reservations are required and can be obtained by calling 974-2141.