‘One of the best kept secrets’

by Annika Freiburger

Culinary Arts program offers hands-on learning students

***This article originally appeared in the Mesabi Tribune on February 11th, 2023.

By: Marie Tolonen, Mesabi Tribune

HIBBING—The Culinary Arts program at Minnesota North College Hibbing Campus is “one of the best kept secrets” of the area, according to its instructors.

Options for the culinary program are a one-year diploma, a two-year diploma, and a Culinary Arts Associates of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree, according to Dan Lidholm, Instructor and Program Director.

Travis Hanson, the second year Culinary Arts instructor also teachers a 16-credit, two semester Pastry Arts certificate that can be used as an add-on for Culinary Arts students, and is also available as a stand alone to both traditional and non-traditional students.

Hanson said many people aren’t aware that there is a culinary arts program right in Hibbing, and that the public can dine there.

Lidholm said the program is unique that it not only serves the college cafeteria, but also a dining room that is open to the public.

The Cardinal Dining Room is open from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for lunch.

Reservations are required for the Cardinal Dining Room and can be made by calling 218-293-6853.

Teresa Kearney, Production Assistant said in addition to the regular dining options the program offers three different buffets during its fall semester.

The prices are set at a rate to recover the costs.

“We’re here to educate and not here to make money,” Lidholm said, adding it’s a sentiment that he values.

Some of the popular items the program offers are large homemade caramel and cinnamon rolls in the morning, and homemade soups and burgers in the afternoon.

There are currently three students enrolled in the first-year program and five in the second year, and they are a mix of ages, and include an Army veteran, two high school students enrolled through a post secondary option (PSEO) agreement between the college and their school.

During the first year of the program students are taught knife skills, making a variety of soups—all from scratch, sauces, and are introduced to bakery, including yeasts and baking cookies.

“The second year is about refining skills they learn the first year,” Lidholm said.

Management skills are also part of the second year, he said, including writing menus, cost and price in menus.

Second year students are putting those skills to test with “chef of the week,” where they have the responsibility of writing up the whole menu. One such menu posted on the program’s Facebook page offered chicken cordon blue, or BBQ pulled pork for entrees; chicken Caesar wrap, or Rueben Panini for sandwiches, Zuppa Toscana for soup, and the choice of lemon meringue pie, dessert pizza, or chocolate mint pie for desserts.

The Pastry Artist Certificate is divided into four, four credit courses, and has no prerequisites. The fall semester courses consist of an Edible Design Showcase, and Cake Baking. In the spring are Advanced Baking, and Cake Design and Decoration.

“Showcase and design is vegetable carving, sugar sculpting, sculpted pumpkins, and gingerbread work,” Hanson explained. “Cake Baking is basically a class on how to bake a cake—angel food, chiffon cakes, base decoration, and a yule log at the holidays, etc.”

Hanson went on to say that in Cake Design and Decoration students learn to work with butter cream frosting, royal icing, fondant work, how to make gum paste flowers, and by the end of the spring semester all of the students complete a four-tier wedding cake that includes all of the components learned in class. The fourth class is Advanced Baking and involves making sugar and chocolate candies and Petit Fours, bread baking, and then ends the year with ice creams and sorbets, he said.

“The nice thing with the pastry artist is there is no prerequisite,” Hanson said, adding that a college student, or someone who wants to learn cake decorating can enroll.

The classes for the Pastry Artist Certificate are typically are offered from 4 to 7 p.m., and an average class size is between 10 to 12 people.

The Pastry Artist certificate is a two semester certificate with no prerequisites that’s typically offered from 4 to 7 p.m., and the classes can be taken in any sequence.

Carl Pohjonen, one of the second year students in the Culinary Arts program said he was first introduced to cooking and baking in a seventh grade home economics class, and it was further fueled by a food service class he took at the high school level.

“I love cooking and baking,” Pohjonen said, adding that he does a lot of cooking for his family and friends.

When asked what his favorite from the Minnesota North Culinary Program, Pohjonen replied, “Curry carrot soup.”

The job outlook is very favorable for students once they graduate.

“If they want to work, they’ll get a job,” Lidholm said.

Kearney added that the program continues to field calls from employers looking to fill positions.

Hanson the college is working to get the word out about the Culinary Arts program, and is actively recruiting in the community and high school in an effort to boost enrollment to meet the overwhelming demand in the industry. He said this is the first year since 2020 that they’ve been able to get out and recruit since 2020 due to the pandemic. So far, there are already five students enrolled for the Fall 2023 semester, he said.

“We have such a high demand in the industry for workers,” Hanson said. “I’ve never seen it so high in the industry.”

In the local area and along the North Shore of Lake Superior, employers are having a difficult time filling positions, and are paying $20 plus per hour to meet a need for educated workers in some instances, according to Hanson.

More information on the Culinary Arts Program and Minnesota North College Hibbing campus is available online at www.minnesotanorth.edu.