by Melissa S. Treacy
Only a baker’s dozen got the chance, and most called it a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Eight hospitality management and five culinary arts students from Montgomery County Community College were recently privileged enough to take part in the Professional Golf Association’s (PGA) U.S. Open, which was hosted in Merion, a historic course for the tour.
Luckily for students in the MCCC curriculum, Jim Lynch, hospitality management instructor, happened to have connections with Ridgewell Caterers, based in Washington, D.C., which is contracted to cater major events with the PGA.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for students,” said Lynch.
Each of the students had a unique opportunity to test themselves, putting the skills learned in the classroom to the test. From set-up, to breakdown, students worked a variety of jobs.
“It was good to get real world experience,” said Ladan Zaim, a first-year culinary arts student who worked as an action cook during the events. “It also reinforced my decision to go to a community college. We focus on practical skills that can really help you get a job, and this played well into that. It was very task-oriented.”
Linda Tucker, now well into her second year with the MCCC culinary arts program, agreed. She said she spent time split between the main kitchen and a corporate tent for Rolex.
The entire course was set, explained Lynch, by prepping food and preparing menus in one main kitchen area. Food would then be transferred daily to the individual corporate tents. With 32 such tents, it was no small feat to keep the process organized.
“It was amazing to work with that scale of food preparation,” said Tucker. “It was very well organized. There was a high standard, all made fresh to order.”
Tucker said she learned a lot from the week of work, with hands-on service learning, offering her a chance at real student engagement.
“It lends to valuable growth in our learning,” she said. “I have a new respect for head chefs and got to learn from them. I also learned humility. It was hard work, and dirty. It was no ‘Top Chef.’”
Tom Sergio said he valued the one-on-one learning from professionals in the field that was made possible through the work with the PGA.
“It was interesting to do a bit of everything,” said the second-year culinary arts student who worked in the USGA Hospitality Tent, which catered to clients.
“From 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., we were doing prep working, making breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Sergio. “One night I worked a pasta station.”
Sergio worked directly with head chef, John Millitello, who had worked all sides of the business for the past 30 years.
“He spent a lot of time teaching me, showing me ways to make cooking easier, and we had a lot of conversations about the future,” Sergio said.
Lynch said students got a chance to “look at the logistics with putting something like this together.”
“The students worked 80 to 85 hours while at the Open, which counts towards their internship requirements needed for graduation,” said Lynch. “Hospitality students got to work a lot of the front of the house, while culinary students worked the back of the house with food production, food safety and ordering.”
No matter their focus, the students benefited greatly from the week’s work.
“Each person had a different experience,” said Sergio.
“This was absolutely an incredible opportunity for them,” said Lynch. “The PGA U.S. Open is the single largest off-premise catering event to be held in the United States this year. It really helped get their feet wet in catering.”