Salt Lake Community College’s Culinary Arts program has a new director.
Since he arrived at the College in September, Andreas Fleckenstein has taken a business-like approach to making sure that SLCC students are well prepared in all aspects of the industry. He’s also set his sights on bolstering the professional and educational opportunities for people in his program.
Having set his sights on expanding the program, perhaps even to eventually include an on-campus hotel to enable the program to offer a comprehensive hospitality program, Fleckenstein began working on bringing in Mist Project Executive Chef Gavin Baker as soon as he heard it might be a possibility.
“Chef Baker’s experience illustrates the expansive possibilities open to graduates, and demonstrates the unique challenges that creative people in the field must navigate to realize those possibilities,” Fleckensten says.
“I love the point of view he brings; yes, our students will get to see how much he loves to make food, [but] at the same time, they’ll also come to understand how hard it is—and why it’s hard—to make such a project happen.”
As an example of the difficulty of culinary arts, Fleckenstein points to how the Mist project capitalizes on the Sundance Film Festival being in town.
“Chef Baker is able to inspire students to do anything, because he already has,” Fleckenstein says. “One great aspect to his visit is that it demonstrates how culinary arts has always been and will always be about more than food—it’s art, culture, and creativity.
“Chef Baker’s idea to locate here during Sundance is perfect from a marketing standpoint, but more than that it provides an ideal link between our craft and all the other creative elements that inform it.”
A miscommunication about directions caused a delay in Chef Baker’s visit to see the students at Salt Lake Community College’s Miller Campus in Sandy, Utah.
With about half of the College’s Culinary Art students and all of the faculty, along with the film crew working on an upcoming documentary about Baker and the Mist Project on-hand, Fleckenstein delivered an impromptu speech. His remarks began as an introduction to Chef Baker and his project, but Fleckenstein, understandably, didn’t want to spoil the moment by giving too much away.
Instead, he offered students his thoughts on his own career path. He talked about what made him successful and how, from his considered perspective as the new director of a major Culinary Arts program, his experience might translate to their situations.
Fleckenstein spoke of his beginnings, in which he had the opportunity to take the well-worn route to any career in the industry—taking a low paying, highly demanding, time-intensive job at a well-respected establishment.
But he’d decided the traditional career path wasn’t for him. Fleckenstein detailed the many jobs he’d had—executive chef, business consultant, mechanic, financial analyst, and chef instructor among them.
“The one constant in my career—and the reason I’ve been able to do what I’ve done—is that I was always learning and always in school getting one degree after another,” he says.
“When I started in the industry, a college degree was plenty—the associate’s degree you’ll leave here with was enough to make your way in business. People with master’s degrees were pretty rare. But it’s a different world today, and you’ll need to keep learning and keep building on the education you’re starting here.”
Fleckenstein told his students that Executive Chef Gavin Baker is just the kind of person who combines a strong work ethic with life-long learning that is most likely to find success in a notoriously difficult industry.
After a short delay, Chef Baker introduced himself to the assembled students and faculty. He then told them tales of his career and life path. He got a start running a restaurant at a very young age in North Carolina. He left to learn from the best in the industry.
One of his experiences included walking from London to Scotland, in the middle of winter. He was cooking and working where he could and often sleeping on the ground along the way.
After his walkabout, while working in a good job and earning a six-figure salary from a respected English restaurant, he left to take a non-paying position at the Fat Duck, one of the world’s finest establishments.
After the first five weeks without pay—and after losing his girlfriend at the time—he secured a paying position at the restaurant. He recounted a few of the lessons he learned there, and how his experiences helped to shape his worldview, one that now informs his Mist Project.
“I’ve never made a traditional decision in my life, but through all the crazy decisions there is one thing that has always remained true: I want to cook at the highest possible level,” Chef Baker says.
“It’s what inspires many decisions in my life, especially my decision to finally open Mist, a guerrilla restaurant that produces incredible food and an incredible experience everywhere it exists.”
The mission of The Mist Project reaches farther than bringing delicious, regionally inspired food to new cities every few months.
Using the world–Salt Lake City in this instance–as his laboratory, Chef Gavin Baker is visiting locations with what he considers to be overlooked or undiscovered food traditions to interact with knowledgeable locals and learn about their native foods.
This endeavor aims to, first, create amazing food and bring it to cities across the nation, and second, to find solutions to the global food crisis by research and reinterpret lost or forgotten indigenous foods.
As part of this effort, Baker and his team were delighted to come to Salt Lake Community College to talk with students in the College Culinary Arts program.
After explaining the kinds of foods the Mist Project would serve, he solicited volunteers from the student body to assist with the project—telling them that volunteering is a great way to taste the food for those whose budgets can’t accommodate the $150 per person price.
The Mist project opened Jan. 19, and will run nightly through Feb. 19. The 15-course dinner takes guests on a journey of food and molecular gastronomy in the site of the former Metropolitan restaurant at 173 W. 300 S. in Salt Lake City.
Thirty-six tickets are available each night, and a special local guest chef will be featured each Monday. Guest Chefs include: Communal’s Colton Soelberg, Viet Pham of Forage, Ryan Lowder of Copper Onion and Plum Alley, and Takashi Gibo of Takashi.
A documentary film crew, working on a film with the working title: Beneath the Mist: The Making of the Mist Project, was on hand documenting the interaction between Chef Baker and SLCC students and faculty.
The documentary film is conceived as a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges involved in transforming a working non-restaurant space into one of the great culinary events in North America. Its filmmakers are interested in examining more closely the compelling backstories associated with the making the Mist Project a success in Salt Lake and beyond.