First and second year students at the University of Connecticut have the opportunity to learn about kitchen sanitation, nutrition and recipes in a first-year experience class dubbed “UCann Cook,” according to UConn culinary operations manager Robert Landolphi.
The course, which started in 2004, was inspired by a growing desire from students to learn how to prepare meals and eat healthy while also meeting the demands of college, Landolphi said.
“The concern was by junior or senior year, you move off campus and have your own kitchen,” Landolphi said. “[A student] said to us, ‘we don’t know how to cook! Is it possible that we could start a cooking class of some type?’”
The course is offered in both the fall and spring semesters and meets every other Wednesday, but Landolphi said a large amount of information is covered in those eight classes.
“We go through sanitation, recipes and the theories of how to follow recipes,” Landolphi said. “As well as ‘mise en place,’ which is French for ‘everything in its place.’ So when they’re doing those recipes they know what to prep.”
The students learn about breakfast preparation, as well as more in-depth meals such as salads and soups.
There is also a class period on baked goods, Landolphi said.
“We are incredibly lucky to have Eric Merkle, who is our bakery manager who came from Mohegan Sun Casino,” Landolphi said. “The students use pastry bags and he [Merkle] shows them how to make roses and things like that.”
The final for the class is a group cooking competition where students are given ingredients and are graded on the recipe they create with what they are given, Landolphi said.
“We’ll present them with a protein and then a pantry of different rice, potatoes and an assortment of vegetables and pastas,” Landolphi said. “Then we say, ‘okay, using these proteins, you have to encompass vegetables and starch into this dish.’ You’d be surprised with what people come up with.”
Landolphi said he is working to possibly create a more advanced class that appeals to upperclassmen who may want to expand their cooking skills.
“A lot of the time we get upperclassmen saying, ‘oh, I didn’t know there was a class like that,’” Landolphi said. “They’ve said, ‘we wish there was a class for upperclassmen.’”
Landolphi said UCann Cook is the quickest course to fill up when students are selecting classes.
“As soon as registration opens, the class closes like that,” Landolphi said. “I get emails from dozens of students afterwards saying, ‘can I get a permission number for the class?’ It really goes to show how popular it is.”
The class has a cap of 22 students per semester.
Landolphi said even though UCann Cook is a first and second year course, students have gone into culinary fields based on what they learned in the class.
“They [students] take our class and get hooked,” Landolphi said. “We hear from them years later and they go for food service management and culinary arts. Some go on to be dieticians.”
Landolphi said his love for teaching the class with fellow instructor Ronald Swiller comes from meeting with European chefs.
“They [the chefs] had so much knowledge and were willing to share everything that they learned over their career,” Landolphi said. “That’s what we want to do.”
Landolphi said the best part of the course is seeing students’ reactions when they complete a recipe successfully.
“When they get that finished dish in front of them and they go, ‘wow!’” Landolphi said. “That’s the point where we realize why we do what we do.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.