Culinary class airs nationwide on Knowledge TV
Vol. 17, No. 26April 2, 1998

Culinary class airs nationwide on Knowledge TV

Robert R. Nelson in Vita Nova's kitchen studio

Robert R. Nelson, assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and institutional management, may be the only UD professor whose grandmother "attends" his class. Residing in Buffalo, N.Y., Nelson's grandmother makes sure she's in front of the TV at 10 a.m. each Thursday to watch Nelson's popular "Culinary Survival Skills" program.

Taped in the studio kitchen at Vita Nova, the student-run restaurant in the Trabant University Center, the show airs on the Jones Cablevision Knowledge TV network and can be seen in 26 million homes nationwide. Viewers across the country can watch and learn from Nelson as he discusses such topics as cooking seafood and making yeast breads or clowns with UD mascot, YoUDee, who fainted in horror during a segment on cutting up poultry.

(One of the few places Jones Cablevision is not available is New Castle County. It is available on Channel 27 of UDTV and in the Philadelphia area on Channel 16.)

Culinary Survival Skills is part of the Distance Learning Program offered by the Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM) Program. Distance learning is designed for busy professionals who want to stay current or advance in competitive fields, but who are unable to attend regular classes because of geographic location, work schedules, or their personal responsibilities.

The UD FOCUS/Distance Learning system responds to those special needs by combining quality instruction with state-of-the-art video technology, including videotaped instruction, interactive video, web-based courses and web-enhanced courses.

Nelson's course supports distance learning two ways. In addition to the television programs, he has been working with Paul Rickards, TV operations technician, and Kathy Troutman, manager, both of UD media services, to develop a state-of-the-art web site.

The site incorporates video of segments from the television series, lectures, notes and links to related sites.

A working model of the site can be found at http://www.udel. edu/UMS/itv/hrim320/.

Additionally, Nelson has been asked to write a book as an outgrowth of his course materials.

Although the shows are designed to heighten the culinary literacy of students majoring in HRIM, it's not unusual for viewers who are at home channel surfing to tune into the cooking show, Nelson said.

"I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time," he said. "All of these things just happened to come together to give us a unique and powerful educational package.

"It was my turn to offer a course via distance learning," Nelson explained, "and we wanted to create interesting content for Knowledge TV. The cooking show format seemed perfect for the course, "Quantity Food Service Management."

"The show on poultry, for example, discussed the many ways poultry is marketed. You can buy it in any form, from a whole bird to one that's already prepared. A student who had never cut up a whole chicken joined me for that segment and learned how to do it. It was much more visual than just having me standing at the podium, discussing technique."

This semester, Nelson has devised a new series of culinary survival skills that ties in with his course in "Hotel, Restaurant and General Food Service Purchasing."

Because of the audience potential of Knowledge TV, he has been able to have national food experts fly in and join him on the program, and he has been able to travel to several sites in Philadelphia to film on location-all aimed at enhancing classroom lectures.

"People who manage hotels can be responsible for purchasing anything from poultry to bedsheets to landscaping services," Nelson said. "I can't even pretend to be an expert in all of these areas, so the influence of the Knowledge TV connection to this project has allowed us to bring in experts who lend an air of credibility to what is being said.

"Take coffee, for example. That used to be a fairly simple purchase. But today, with so many specialty coffees, buying coffee is almost as complex as buying wine.

"Instead of just lecturing students about coffee purchases, we were able to shoot on location at Old City Coffee in Philadelphia and actually get footage of coffee roasting. At the same time, we were able to interview the owner and have him describe coffee's five different roasts."

To complete the segment, a film of coffee being grown and harvested, supplied by the Coffee Association of America, was included.

Another section on produce was filmed at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market with television food personality John Lerro, the "Green Grocer."

"We were able to show students how produce comes to market, how to select it and how to store it," Nelson said.

Additionally, for the same show, the 6'4" Nelson invited 5'2" Ronnie DeLaCruz, of the Produce Institute, Produce Marketing Association, to be a guest in the Vita Nova studio. Footage filmed in the television kitchen was interspersed with the footage from the produce market.

Wells Meats in Philadelphia provided a meat cutter with 35 years of experience to conduct a television tour of a meat plant. The program also featured a meat cutting demonstration, taped in the Vita Nova studio, to demonstrate how to cut a filet mignon and a New York strip steak.

Nelson joined the University in September 1990 and has developed and taught courses in tourism and hospitality contract management. His research in the areas of tourism development and genetically altered foods in the food service industry have led to a number of publications and paper presentations.

Additionally, he authored a chapter on the impact of tourism on host communities for the book, New Dimensions in Quality-of-Life/ Marketing Research, published in 1995.

A graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, Nelson has an MBA from Drexel University. He is a doctoral candidate in UD's College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy, where he is examining the use of tourism as catalyst for local economic development in urban areas.

-Beth Thomas
Photo by Robert Cohen