Delgado A - Z: Culinary Arts

by: Hilton Guidry
Only a handful of programs that were offered at Delgado 90 years ago are still in existence today. Architecture is one program that has stood the test of time.  Another is the very popular Culinary Arts program. In the 1920s the program was called Commercial Cooking and Stewardship and one of the first teachers to stand out was Chef John Henry Breland. Chef Breland taught culinary arts at Delgado for decades and even published a number of cookbooks over the years.

Chef Breland had been a teacher at Delgado for 20 years when this book was published in 1947

The 1960s produced another famous graduate, Chef Buster Ambrosia. In 1962 Chef Ambrosia graduated from the Culinary Arts program and began his apprenticeship with the Hotel Corporation of America. By the 1980s he became the night chef at Commander’s Palace and then became the Executive Chef at Mr. B’s Bistro. Chef Ambrosia went on to open his own restaurant, made many television and radio appearances, published books, taught classes at Delgado and in 2004 was honored by Delgado with his first Circles of Excellence award.

Chef Ambrosia graduated from Delgado in 1962

One 1970s student, Carmen Bazile, made history by becoming the first African-American woman to graduate from the Culinary Arts program. In a field mostly dominated by men, Chef Bazile’s career is still going strong. When she graduated from Delgado she became a chef at a local restaurant called Café Brulot. She then became an instructor at Nunez Community College for 24 years and won the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002. Chef Bazile is also the creator of "Miss Ruth's All-Natural Seasonings" that can be found in local grocery stores and throughout the world.

Chef Bazile was the first African-American woman to graduate from Delgado

In the 1980s during the oil field industry bust, one nontraditional student decided to make a career change and enrolled in Delgado’s Culinary Arts program. Jon Petrie was worried about his career and wanted some stability. Facing a bad job market, like many of the students are today, he looked for career where he wouldn’t have to struggle in the marketplace for a job. After graduation Chef Petrie immediately found a job and was on the path to a successful career. What he didn’t know at the time was he would later come back to Delgado and teach Culinary Arts. “I was one of the winners of WWL’s Spirit of Excellence. In the interview I said I wanted to give back to the community some of what it shared with me. So I feel like I am fulfilling that mission statement here at Delgado.”

Chef Petrie is a Delgado graduate and current teacher
When Chef Petrie graduated in the 1980s, his graduating class was only 10 students. Today, the program has 40 students enrolled in Pastry Arts, eight in Catering Management and 110 in Culinary Arts. Many recent graduates have gone on to successful careers: Chef Gason Nelson is the personal chef to Reggie Bush, Chef Patrick Henry is the personal chef to Chris Paul and Chef Charles Talley was the executive chef for the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Chef Nelson is a Delgado Graduate and personal chef to Reggie Bush
Two current students, Josh Williams and Erin Williams, were finalists in the 2011 San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Regional Competition. What Chef Petrie didn’t know is that the two students made a pact that whoever won between the two, the winner would take the other to the next round as their assistant (guaranteeing that both of them would advance). Josh finished second with pan roasted quail stuffed with boudin and Erin finished third with a pan seared red snapper with pesto gnocchi. Other students recently placed first in the 2011 Louisiana Seafood Cook Off. And according to Chef Petrie, Delgado has always placed in the competition coming in first or second on many occasions.

Students at the Louisiana Seafood Cook Off
With New Orleans being one of the culinary centers of America, the program is also involved in hosting many competitions involving professional chefs, students and teachers. Delgado hosted the 2011 Tabasco Brand Hottest Chef Contest and also had the opportunity to host the American Culinary Federation’s Central Regional Competition when the association held their convention here in New Orleans.

Judges from the 2011 Tabasco Hottest Chef contest that was hosted by Delgado
The Delgado Culinary Arts program also reaches out to future chefs on the high school level. With Pro Start, high school students can tour the kitchen and meet Delgado instructors to see if they are interested in becoming a chef. The program is also involved with Café Reconcile and Liberty Kitchen to provide at risk youth with the opportunity to build a better future by learning culinary skills. Dr. Mary Bartholomew, Director of the Culinary Arts and Hospitality program, is one of the board members of Liberty Kitchen. Chef Petrie said, “We open our kitchen to these groups and offer assistance and training. And if I am in the kitchen, I try and feed them”.

Chef Petrie is a proponent of service learning and likes to work culinary into different projects. One recent project involved pastry students making ginger bread houses and bringing them to Oschner Hospital’s pediatric ward. “Students do a reflection on it and it gets pretty intense. Some of the students get pretty emotional.,” Petrie said.

Students with their giner bread houses at the pediatric ward
One of the more distinguished and recognizable students to come through the program was former Attorney General Charles Foti, who had a memorable experience building gingerbread houses. Mr. Foti had retired and his family had owned a catering business during the World’s Fair so he wanted to learn some culinary skills and it “seemed like fun.”

Former Attorney General Charles Foti and his ginger bread house

“When we were in the elevator you could see his roof was starting to slip a little bit. By the time we got to the hallway of the pediatric ward the roof fell off. I could just see it in his face; he was heartbroken. The students felt so bad for him because they knew how hard he worked on it. The first patient who came out to choose a house wanted Mr. Foti’s house. That just made him feel so much better. He had failed, yet he still had the first house chosen over all the other students.”

In his 1947 book, Chef’s Guide To Quantity Cookery, Chef Breland referred to the catering business as “developing rapidly with modern labor-saving equipment and scientific methods of food productions are eliminating the drudgery formerly involved in the this profession”.  More than 60 years later, technology is still playing a major role in the industry.

This oven can cook a pizza in two minutes and can reach up to 900 degree heat
According to Chef Petrie, “Deep frying is still deep frying, poaching is still poaching. That is why we still teach that. But there has been a lot of advancement in flavor profiles and techniques. New technology is happening so fast we have to try and keep up with it. They have hot or room temperature ice cream now. But when you put it in your mouth it is just like cold ice cream. And you can achieve that by adding different chemicals and additives to achieve all kinds of neat things.”

Who knows what future generations of Delagdo culinary students will be creating! I am sure 90 years ago the students would have never envisioned eating hot ice cream that tasted cold. One can only image what will be taught to Delgado students in the year 2101.

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