Culinary students find a home on North Fork

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Ethan Crook (left), a culinary student and line cook at North Fork Table and Inn in Southold, with chef Stephan Bogardus.

Today’s college graduates are famously hard pressed to find a job during this historically sluggish economy.

Not so for Suffolk County Community College’s culinary school students and alumni.

Nearly 100 percent of the college’s culinary arts program graduates find work in the field, with many ending up in upscale commercial kitchens throughout the North Fork, said program director Richard Freilich.

“We don’t do placement, per se, but we do have connections with a lot of the local businesses looking to fill different types of positions,” Mr. Freilich said. “We try to find students that are best suited for those positions.”

He said the program’s job-placement successes are thanks in part to the internship program.

Students pursuing culinary degrees at SCCC are required to fulfill 200 internship hours with a restaurant, hotel or other business in the hospitality industry. These internships often turn into full-time positions, he said.

The Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on Main Street in downtown Riverhead opened in 2008 with 135 students enrolled. The number has only grown since then, with 369 students in the fall class of 2012, said Mary Feder, director of college relations.

“There’s a great demand for our students, so we get calls all the time looking for experienced help,” said Mr. Freilich, noting that as part of internship work, baking students work at the college’s retail operation, The Baker’s Workshop, in the main culinary school.

“The input we get back from students is excellent,” Mr. Freilich said of the school’s hands-on approach to education. “They say had they not come here, they wouldn’t have gotten their job.”

Nobody knows that better than current student Courtney Rowehl. She got her job at the Plaza Café in Southampton by asking chef and owner Doug Gulij, who is one of her teachers, if she could do part of her internship at the well-known seafood restaurant.

“I’ve been there three years now,” Ms. Rowehl said, adding that being successful takes hard work and sacrifice, but the support of her teacher was important. “At Suffolk, there’s a core of teachers that know all the students by name, post jobs and will always push you to do harder internships. I wanted to do the fine dining thing, so I just went for it.”

And that’s exactly what culinary student Ethan Crook of Southold has been doing at North Fork Table & Inn since his internship began in July. He has since turned the apprentice role into a full-time position at the Southold four-star restaurant.

“Working here has definitely helped me progress as a cook in the sense of working more independently and confidently,” Mr. Crook said. “I try to do that as much as I can — to just go for it. I like Julia Childs’ quote, ‘In cooking you have to have a what-the-hell attitude.’ I feel like if you don’t just go for it, then you’re not going to learn how to do it. Sometimes Stephan will tell me that failure is when you learn.”

He’s talking about the restaurant’s rising young chef Stephan Bogardus, 24, of Southold, a former classmate of Mr. Crook’s at Mattituck High School.

Mr. Bogardus said he has enjoyed having students from different culinary schools intern at the restaurant in the past year, noting that Mr. Crook was the restaurant’s first intern.

“Having students from different schools, educations and abilities has helped me display what [executive chef] Gerry Hayden and [acclaimed pastry chef and co-owner] Claudia Fleming … have taught me, which is really what took me to the level I’m now able to achieve,” said Mr. Bogardus, who first joined the North Fork Table & Inn team after graduating in 2009 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Though Mr. Crook, former cook at the Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck, wasn’t an entirely blank slate when he began his internship at North Fork Table & Inn, he said there was a steep learning curve associated with doing his first gig at a high-end restaurant.

“This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Mr. Crook, now a line-cook at the restaurant. “This is more than just a restaurant. It’s first and foremost a very passionate cooking kitchen. It’s very serious, but enjoyable; I really get a kick out it. I definitely see more types of food, greens and proteins than I think I would in a lot of places.”

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