Maryland School System's food service professionals receive training at the "Cook Smart Boot Camp" in Vita Nova this summer.

HRIM looks back

Vita Nova faculty involved in variety of summer projects

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6:20 p.m., Sept. 27, 2012--While some vacationed this summer, Debbie Ellingsworth and Joe DiGregorio – faculty members with Vita Nova restaurant in the University of Delaware’s Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management -- were busy helping others learn how to cook.

From June to August, both Ellingsworth and DiGregorio assisted a number of projects, including a four-week kids culinary camp, a Sunday breakfast mission and a revamping of Cecil County (Md.) Public Schools cafeterias.

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Ellingsworth, who has been conducting the culinary camp for six years, hosted four separate weeklong sessions in June, July and August. Students were divided, with groups for ages 9-13 and 14-17, and came from various states. 

“They’re very food-savvy,” Ellingsworth said. “One thing that they love the most — it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female — is piping cupcakes and decorating them with sprinkles.” 

Ellingsworth stressed the importance of kitchen safety, especially while teaching students the intricacies of cooking. Local HRIM students were hired to assist with equipment the students could not use. 

Students were eager to create menus of their own, as Ellingsworth organized the camp’s agenda by allowing students to collaborate. Students were encouraged to suggest dishes to make at the beginning of the class, with little barriers as to what they could decide to create, and the dishes range from lobster bisque to crème brulee. 

Along with University alumnus Karen Rhea, Ellingsworth also worked with the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington as a group of single mothers with children ages 9 and older visited the Vita Nova Kids Culinary Camp for the first time this year. Ellingsworth said she hopes to continue to incorporate the Sunday Breakfast Mission into the culinary camp for years to come.

Joe DiGregorio led a summer institute on campus from June 25-29 for adult learners taking the HRIM program online. The program is not open to matriculated students on campus.

Since 2002, the weeklong program focuses on HRIM specifics, including menu development, product development, plate presentation and video training. Students had the chance to take a number of field trips both on and off campus.

This year, DiGregorio took students to local sustainable farms, Highland Farms cheese producers in Coatesville, Pa., meatpacking plants and a tour of Wegmans food markets in order to get a better understanding of the processes of the food industry.

Also, both Ellingsworth and DiGregorio took part in an effort to improve the quality of school lunches in Cecil County through an initiative endorsed by first lady Michelle Obama.

They conducted a weeklong “how to” boot camp from Aug. 6-13 for cafeteria workers to show them culinary basics. University alumnus Scott Heckert assisted the Vita Nova faculty in this project. The county plans to begin using raw products and introducing scratch cooking to their district cafeteria menu. 

This project is ongoing, as Ellingworth and DiGregorio plan to check in with the school cafeterias to ensure they continue to use fresh ingredients. 

Article by Danielle C. DeVita

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