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Chris Morosin has been teaching at CNM’s culinary arts program since 2001, back when the school was still TVI. He is an instructor in all three branches of CNM’s Culinary Arts, Beverage and Hospitality Management program and is an accredited sommelier to boot. The Paper. spoke with him this week about what makes CNM’s program special, how they are navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic and what advice he has for people interested in or just getting started out in the industry.
The Paper.: What does CNM’s Culinary Arts, Beverage and Hospitality Management program offer that sets it apart from others operating in Albuquerque or around the state?
Chris Morosin: As far as culinary arts goes, CNM is the only program in New Mexico accredited with the American Culinary Federation. Our brewing program, which just got its start about four or five years ago, is also accredited by the Master Brewers Association. This is honestly a pretty remarkable achievement because, to my knowledge, we’re the only community college, two-year program, that has gotten this backing from the master brewers guild. Clearly this isn’t a great time to drop in, but please check the website and come visit us for a tour once that is possible. Oh, and we can also boast a solid roster of instructors, all accredited and highly experienced in their fields.
How have educators and administrators been keeping the program running at a high caliber during the pandemic?
When the pandemic first really hit us in March, we had to immediately move to online classes to finish up the spring semester. There are several classes that, by their very nature, involve a lot of face-to-face contact, particularly labs and brewing classes. We came up with a series of protocols and procedures that ensure that anything done in person is following clear safety measures. Most students have been pretty good with handling the situation. Unfortunately, a lot of our students, who would normally be attending our classes on top of a restaurant job, are currently out of work. We have an influx of students who have a little extra time on their hands.
Tell me about the student-run Bistro 106 classroom/restaurant. I’d love to get a table once it is safe to do so. How does one go about getting a reservation?
So, the Bistro is the third semester of the cooking track. Students who are working toward their cooking certification, as opposed to the baking concentration, are in charge of running the Bistro. They take an introduction to culinary skills and learn intermediate skills before they even make it there. We then have them take the advanced culinary class with Chef Scott and the advanced food and beverage service with me. The goal of these two classes, and their work at the Bistro, is to understand how front-house staff interacts with the kitchen. I like to think of the Bistro as a kind of a stage where they need to shine. I start the servers out small, just running food or serving one table. Then I ramp it up over the weeks. After some time, you have students waiting three or four tables or maybe working as the maître d’. It will season them enough to be ready for the real thing. We’ll run our dining service the first time with only five or six tables, and then we’ll open the whole front up by the end of the semester.
As far as getting a reservation, we maintain a mailing list of a few hundred people. For every class we keep at least a table or two for family or friends of the students and then others for CNM administration and the other instructors. Check our website and sign up for a reservation. Just know that while we do strive to provide elements of fine dining, this is a student-led program, and also that we will not be seating guests until it is safe to do so.
In your advanced food and beverage class, what is a dish that at least some students have fits with every semester? What makes it challenging?
It isn’t so much about any one dish. The challenge is putting it all together. By the time they get to my classes, they are able to execute most recipes. The issue is timing. If you’ve got a table of four, a four-top as we say, we want to make sure that they get their courses at the same time and that they come out at the correct temperatures. That’s the challenge of the class, and to me, that’s when the course gets really fun. The challenge is really in the consistent execution of not just one dish, but many. Can you make it the same way six times in a row? Can you make it the same way Thursday that you did on Tuesday? Can you make it when you’re not feeling good, or when you just got dumped? In short, that is the challenge of being a pro cook versus a good home cook.
For those who are considering a career in fine dining, before even attending your courses, are there any cookbooks or other resources out there that they should consider familiarizing themselves with?
It has been over 20 years, but Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential was and still is a seminal book for a lot of people. Not to say that it isn’t highly problematic. Especially over the last five years, a lot of behavior that was once normalized and even romanticized in kitchens has come under intense scrutiny. David Chang is an awesome chef and his philosophy on restaurants and cooking influences us. So, one of the things that we’re stressing in our program is that it’s not necessarily about yelling and screaming and throwing things. All that kind of sexy stuff that used to drive the business.
I think one of the interesting things to come out of this pandemic is that we have a little time to ourselves, time for reflection. That we’re a little bit more concerned about the quality of life for the average worker. I’m concerned about pay disparities between front of the house and back of the house. I hope that when people choose a restaurant to eat at that they’re thinking about those things as opposed to, you know, could I get a giant plate of good food for 20 bucks?
What do you tell your students who are nervous about the future of the restaurant industry, let alone fine dining, as we have seen such a devastating downturn in the industry during the course of the shudowns?
I firmly believe that the skills that we teach in this type of program are transferable to a lot of things. You may know the French term mise en place about being both mentally and physically ready for things. One of the discoveries that some students make is that they want no part in restaurant work or food service. So, for students who never want to pick up a knife after learning the reality of the industry, they still have to learn how to be prepared mentally. They learned how to make a checklist really work for them. They learned how to communicate. When I asked my students the same question you just asked me, as we were starting a new class last week, they told me, earnestly, “I got to cook. I love giving food to other people. I love making people happy.”