Some of Utah’s most influential politicians and affluent citizens meet at the Utah State Capitol building every day. An experienced team of professional chefs would normally handle the high-class dining experience offered at such a magnificent venue, but in this case, the honor goes to students of the SLCC Culinary Institute.
In April 2010, SLCC launched a cafe and catering facility at the Utah State Capitol. The facility, which is fully staffed by SLCC students, is the result of a partnership between the SLCC Culinary Institute and the Capitol Preservation Board.
“The passion of my students is to really create a good eating experience, and that’s what we trained for: the entire food experience. To get [to work in a place like this] is a bonus, and I think it’s a really great opportunity,” said Jackie Pappas, chief instructor of catering at the Capitol.
Students of the program gain real-world experience by catering a wide variety of events, from government and business meetings to weddings and foreign receptions. The class gives them the opportunity to prepare a variety of dishes for a diverse client base. Local politicians require a different menu than foreign dignitaries, and students must be prepared to bring their culinary expertise to bear.
“The folks on the hill like American comfort food, so we make meatloaf, pot roast, and southern fried chicken,” said Pappas. “We did a Thai meal, which was really fun. We did a Turkish meal. We’ve done some Asian cuisine, but we try to vary it for everybody up here.”
The catering class, like most real-world culinary careers, is about more than just food preparation. Students who are enrolled in the class are actually put in charge of one event from beginning to end.
“It’s kind of a funny thing, because you have this idea that being a chef is just cooking, and it isn’t,” said Pappas. “The nutrition and math and business marketing and purchasing, all those things [are part of] the program here.”
SLCC also runs a cafeteria, managed by Chef Instructor Bruce Johnson, which is located in the Senate Building at the east side of the complex. This sister program not only prepares meals for staff members working at Capitol Hill, but also provides the catering program with resources and culinary manpower.
A labyrinth of underground tunnels links the cafeteria kitchen with the other buildings, allowing students to rush food to conference rooms and service sites throughout the Capitol Hill Complex. The hosted events can range from small meetings to huge gatherings of around 1000 guests in the Capitol Rotunda. During the last legislative session, students catered up to 18 events in a single day.
All of this real-world experience can be harrowing for a student who isn’t used to the energetic nature of a catering business. Pappas tries her best to prepare new students for the ride.
“As a chef, I don’t know how many ways you can say ‘timing’ and ‘busy’ to a student. You just have to say ‘Look at me; I’m telling you, you have to be ready, or you’re going to die, and I don’t want you to die in my class.’”
As part of the agreement between SLCC and the Capitol Preservation Board, room-usage fees can be waived for SLCC meetings and events catered by SLCC Capitol Catering, which knocks a huge chunk off the overall price for an event.
Faculty who are interested in taking advantage of this deal can contact Chef Jackie Pappas at (801) 538-1095, or at firstname.lastname@example.org