In conversation with Tech’s executive chefs

Cooking is an example of the perfect balance between art and science. It artfully requires the ideal combination of taste, aroma and color that tickle the senses with delight, yet it also demands the careful science of identifying what ingredients work well to blend into a flavorful dish. Delicious, healthy food is a top priority amongst the chefs who have travelled far and wide to feed the brightest minds at Tech. Feeding the enormous Tech community through the dining halls, catering events and the student center food court is no easy task.

Before they came to feed the hungry stomachs of  Tech students, Tech’s chefs have served food at Grammy Awards, The Olympics, NASCAR races, two Super Bowls, as well as the likes of Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Bill Gates. However, its a tough road to the top and not all fun all the time.

“It’s not like it’s not glamorous, you have to roll your sleeves up. Some of these guys are up there but until you get there, it’s hard work,” said Graham Conner, the Executive Chef of Catering and food court area.

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“Food network and stuff has been wonderful and makes chefs look like rockstars but what people don’t understand is that they have a staff behind them doing things. Sometimes there is an illusion as to how hard this business is,” said Michael Gumbert, Executive Chef of Brittain Dining hall.

Tech’s chefs have been in the food industry for several years, having worked at hotels, hospitals, convention centers and restaurants. Most came to Tech for the stability of the hours, having worked through erratic schedules to follow their passion for cooking.

“When I got to my senior year in college I liked cooking more than writing term papers. In ‘91 I went to culinary school, Johnson and Wales. Got into catering. Spent 20 years there then came here,” Gumbert said.

“I got into cooking since I was a young guy because my parents owned a restaurant when I was growing up. They had land, they grew their own food. I know how the food goes from seed to the plant and from the plant to the plates. I learned how to cook then. When I graduated high school, they wanted me to go into the military but I didn’t. I wanted to learn how to cook. I went to the French institute and then the University of Kentucky for a degree in business and management,” said Rimbold Bordeau, the Campus Executive Chef.

“The art of cooking is always evolving. I mean when you think it’s always been done it hasn’t. It is endless what you can do. It’s like music. Someone has a piano and takes the same keys and changes what’s been done. Similarly a chef can take a piece of chicken or beef and turn it into something new. One good thing is we never go hungry,” Gumbert said.

“If you like to cook there is no reason why not. Sometimes people are intimidated by the process. Don’t be afraid to try things. When I first came here we did midnight breakfast. We served grits. I am a good old southern boy. We served it with butter, cream and salt. But here we serve it without anything. I asked the chef ‘what do you mean?’ But now I understand, because there are so many different people, with such different tastes,” Conner said.

As students, young adults often develop unhealthy eating habits, relying on fast foods and pre-packaged meals to be their primary source of nutrition. “When you go overseas, you spend a long time eating. You spend four hours eating dinner, digest before you go to sleep. Here time is so precious and people are always in a hurry,” Bordeau said.

The express college life may not be something Tech can control but the chefs are doing their part to keep the students healthy. “We are trying to focus on not trying to use things that are fatty, such as mayonnaise, cheese, etc and use alternatives such as yogurt in place of ricotta cheese,” Conner said.

“There is a gluten free option at each station at Brittan this year. There are vegetarian options all over campus. We now have late night vegetarian options at North Ave as well besides burgers and all. Instead of opening a $1 meal with tons of sodium, go to the dining halls, there are a lot of healthy options,” said Andrea Preininger, the Marketing Manager of GT dining. “If someone has an allergy, they can call us in advance and we can especially design the menu for them,” Bordeau said.

There might be some students that are curious about culinary school and pursuing their interests in cooking. “They teach you the basics. You learn the foundation of stocks, knife cuts, trimming out and butchering meat,” Gumbert said. “You learn the process, the science of the food, where the food comes from, where tomatoes come from, where pasta comes from. You take that and apply that to everything,” Bordeau said.

Rimbold Bordeau, the five executive chefs including Michael Gumbert and Graham Conner and a staff of about 300 others feed Tech’s community continuously and tirelessly.