A lab built for yumminess
Something smells delicious on the first floor of McGuffey Hall.
A tantalizing, mouth-watering aroma pulls you helplessly to room 120, the spacious, newly renovated Food Science and Preparation Lab of the Nutrition and Dietetics program.
Walk in the room and the aroma is overwhelmingly tempting.
There, executive chef Jamie Titchenal is showing a group of students and faculty how to prepare fettuccine alfredo. A couple of students are helping by rolling made-from-scratch pasta through a small metal device clamped to the wood counter.
Titchenal tosses ingredients – cheese, salt, garlic and black pepper, to name a few – into a sauce pan that’s heating at 212 degrees.
“I’ve always wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta,” said Ashley Timbrook, a nutrition and dietetics major from Clifton Forge. “And I’ve never had a pasta machine, so it was really cool to see it made.”
This culinary class is the brainchild of Jyotsna Sharman, associate professor and director of the Nutrition and Dietetics program at Radford University. Sharman organized two afternoon classes this semester in the food lab to provide instruction to her nutrition and dietetics students, many of whom are also Honors Academy students, about cooking healthier meals.
Many of those students are on their way to becoming registered dieticians. Others want to work as physical and occupational therapists and athletic trainers. In preparation for their future careers, the students often counsel clients in practice settings, talking about healthier substitutions that clients could make in accordance with their health concerns.
“I strongly believe that it is important to tell people why they should eat healthy, what those options are, and how to prepare basic dishes in tasty and healthful ways,” said Sharman, an Honors Academy faculty fellow. “Having a first-hand knowledge of recipe development and basic culinary techniques can be of an advantage to practicing professionals.”
At the first class in September, Titchenal and Brian Mann, a classically trained French chef, walked the observers step-by-step through the process of preparing the “five mother sauces” of French cuisine: tomato, veloute, hollandaise, espangole and béchamel.
“These are the basic core sauces of all cooking,” said Mann, the operations manager at Dalton Dining Hall. “If we take one of the sauces and we add ingredients to them, then they become a compound sauce that we’re familiar with. For example, if we take a béchamel sauce, which is a thickened milk cream sauce, and we add parmesan cheese at the end, we end up with alfredo sauce.”
At the second class in late October, Titchenal demonstrated how to make Alfredo sauce from béchamel sauce. He also prepared the classic pasta All'Amatriciniana from the tomato sauce recipe demonstrated in the October class.
When the cooking was finished, everyone eagerly grabbed a plate to sample the finished product.
“The food is awesome,” said Aubree Marshall, a first-year sports medicine major from Fancy Gap. Marshall said she is “not a cook,” and “learned a lot from the class,” which will be useful as she prepares for a career as a physical therapist.
“Learning these techniques will help me in working with my clients who want to be healthier,” Marshall said. “I can show them healthier cooking alternatives.”
The same goes for Lindsey Birch.
A senior nutrition and dietetics major from Portsmouth, Birch wants to be a registered dietician and work in a hospital. She finds cooking “fascinating.”
“This gives us skills that we can use to help others, and that’s very valuable,” said Birch, who is president of Radford University’s Honors Academy Student Council and the Student Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“It can be very valuable for counselling patients if you’re trying to get them to consume a healthier diet,” Birch continued. “You can find ways to make vegetables more appealing or prepare foods that are healthier and have natural ingredients and not preservatives.”
Laurie George agreed.
“I’d like to be able to teach someone how to make a healthier tomato sauce instead of them eating sauce from a jar,” the senior from Roanoke said.
Terri Brocki, a senior nutrition and dietetics major from Virginia Beach, said she learned valuable cooking techniques from Chef Mann and was fascinated with the cultural and historical stories behind the recipes.
“Having an actual chef here, who has been to France and has been involved in many different cultures, to answer all of our questions was a great lesson in culture,” Brocki said.
Many registered dieticians, Sharman said, choose to work in food service setting “overseeing commercial kitchen operations,” which was another motivation for offering cooking classes to her students.
Timbrook said her “ultimate goal” was to own a restaurant someday. “I love to cook. I love food, and I’m all about learning more about food preparation,” she said.
One more motivation for offering the classes was her students’ health, Sharman said.
“I realize that students typically eat either fast food or out of the box. So if students have a little interest in cooking, perhaps they could learn how to fix simple dishes themselves, monitor the ingredients and stay away from the harmful preservatives,” Sharman said. “I thought this could be a good opportunity for our students to learn something interesting, useful and very applicable.”