Marc Dunham's goal is simple: supply Oklahoma City with an army of cooks that will make this market the envy of the culinary world.
Thinking big is nothing new for the director of the School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle Technology Center. The New Braunfels, Texas, native is a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos and the Culinary Arts School of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. And he lives for challenges.
Right now, he is studying to attain Certified Master Chef status and has some restaurant concepts he's chomping at the bit to unleash on the Oklahoma City market while managing his position at Francis Tuttle's Rockwell Campus.
So when I met with him over coffee to discuss his plans for the expanded School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle way back in November 2011, I had no doubt the dreams and schemes he rolled out didn't come from a pipe.
Dunham is driven to achieve. He takes his craft seriously and asks the same of his students and staff. Dunham speaks succinctly about the school's goals.
“Our goal is to prepare our students for success in the workplace,” Dunham said. “We offer the tools, instruction and experience needed to prepare them to excel in entry-level positions in the hospitality and food service industry.”
From knife skills to baking and charcuterie, the school offers classroom and practical, experiential education in the 31,000-square-foot school that includes nine teaching kitchens outfitted with cooking suites for each student.
“Rather than have students hover around one stove, they will have their own to work from,” Dunham said. “And classes will be videotaped and released into our Internet system so they can go back and review lessons and techniques performed in class.”
The new school, on the west side of the campus at 12777 N Rockwell Ave., includes a grand demonstration kitchen and three working restaurants.
Dunham doesn't want to fool anyone about what the school offers. This isn't a degree path, and it's not about getting people on “Top Chef.”
“We're training cooks,” Dunham said. “That's all we're concentrating on here. Professional cooking is a skill with value anywhere in the world. Our goal is to prepare our students to put that skill into practice with a certain level of expertise.”
Dunham said the curriculum dovetails perfectly for students interested in continuing their culinary education at the collegiate level at schools that specialize in hospitality, such as Oklahoma State University, or specialized culinary training from places, such as Platt College or The Coach House Apprenticeship Program.
“The first thing we ask is ‘What are your goals?'” Dunham said. “The curriculum we have is broad-based, but we offer different challenges through the experiential portion of the program.”
3 culinary concepts
In charge of this portion of the experience is chef Chris Becker, director of culinary operations. Becker, who came to Francis Tuttle from Oklahoma State's Ranchers Club, where he succeeded Dunham as executive chef, is proprietor of Della Terra Fine Pasta company. Becker is from Connecticut. In his professional career, he is known for running the pasta station at Del Posto in New York City.
Under his charge are three concepts:
• Tut's is a cafeteria but is armed with a pizza oven, indoor grill and hot griddle along with a taco bar and deli. Tut's also offers grab-and-go options and pastries. It's open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offers a broad range of experiences for the students.
• Cravings is a bakery open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. It offers fresh-baked breads, pastries and grab-and-go breakfast and lunch offerings along with fresh-brewed coffee.
• District 21 is not yet open but is in operation. Dunham and Becker hope to open for regular service in June. For now, they are preparing by doing some private events.
“At District 21, we plan to focus on simple preparation of individual ingredients,” Becker said. “The idea is to show the students what perfectly prepared ingredients offer in flavor, which leads to them learning to blend and stack them.”
Tut's and Cravings are open to the public. When District 21 opens, we'll provide more information in The Oklahoman.
Training for the table
Dunham is a serious chef, which leads him to some concerns over the way television has made a darling of chefs.
“The exposure it has given our profession is tremendous,” he said. “Places like this wouldn't exist without it, but it has created a breed of young cooks who want to go straight to having their own television show.”
He believes young chefs must enter the profession understanding there is a procession to the top, and that begins with simple cooking. He said good line cooks are in huge demand. The number of highly qualified and experienced line cooks a market has in its workforce is directly related to the quality of its dining scene. Great food is made by hand, and the more well-trained hands we have, the better our food will be prepared.
Francis Tuttle's classes are primarily populated by students from the school districts the tech center serves, but the culinary program is open to anyone.
The top-flight facilities will give students an advantage in learning to operate state-of-the-art equipment. But Dunham said he also feels a responsibility as an instructor to be a good steward of classic cooking techniques developed over centuries. That's why students will also learn butchering, dough-making and charcuterie skills.
“If we don't pass down this knowledge, who will?” Dunham said. “And a lot of working chefs never went to school and might never have worked at a restaurant doing charcuterie, so some of the instruction we offer will be attractive to working chefs as well as beginners.”
For more information, go to francistuttle.edu/culinaryarts or call 717-7799.