The Labs of Summer: JWU Culinary Students Return to Campus

Culinary labs started up again this past Monday for a 6-week session that will run through mid-August. While labs were essentially halted in March when the coronavirus arrived in the U.S., the rebooted Summer Session resets classes back to Day 1, giving all baking & pastry arts and culinary arts students the opportunity to start fresh. The labs have been reconfigured to ensure social distancing and other safety measures — but otherwise, it’s (mostly) business as usual for students who are excited to get back to campus after months of quarantine.

When asked what she was most looking forward to about getting back to campus, Culinary Operations Assistant Alexandria Milano said, “I miss being in the labs surrounded by my friends.”

When classes were cut short in March, Milano had been in the middle of assembling a spring wedding-themed sugar sculpture for Advanced Sugar Artistry. On Monday, she was able to pick up where she left off: “A couple months later and I’m finally finishing my newest sugar showpiece. Today I assembled the base and tomorrow I’ll be adding the risers.”

In March, Julie Kurz had transitioned out of her Baking & Pastry Arts labs (she completed her A.S. last year) and was pursuing the Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship bachelor’s degree (which is largely academic). She had just picked up a job with Culinary Operations, which would give her the opportunity to facilitate lab classes for the spring and fall. When everything was halted, she made the decision to stay in Providence rather than fly home. “Walking around an empty campus in a time when people should have been buzzing around was a little sad,” she noted. While she kept in touch with chefs by email, she missed being able to go and hang out with them. “So I’m excited to be back and see everyone! Especially without being directly enrolled in labs, I’m glad that with my job I am still able to interact and learn from the chefs!”

Grapefruit Pannacotta by Alexandria MilanoTake the Mystery-Basket Challenge (or Bake Some Bread)
Both Milano and Kurz worked to keep their skills sharp in quarantine.

Milano and her boyfriend Dylan Perez gamified the experience of lockdown by giving each other weekly “Chopped”-style mystery-basket challenges.

As a 4-year Baking & Pastry Arts major, she got dessert-themed ingredients, while Perez, a 4-year Culinary Arts student, focused on the savory side. “We would each pick 3-4 mystery ingredients for each other to bake or cook with,” she explained. “For one of my favorite dishes I had to use grapefruit, shredded coconut, almond flour, and rose water. I made a grapefruit yogurt panna cotta with moscato grapefruit sauce, rose water chantilly cream, almond coconut and pink peppercorn soil, and a basil tuile.” (Most of Perez’ dishes ended up not being documented: “I didn’t have many of his because I’d be so hungry at the end of our competition I’d eat it before I could even take a picture!” Her pannacotta is at right.)

Kurz expanded her savory cooking skills, in particular: “I forced myself to buy vegetables in bulk which allowed me plenty of time to work on and perfect my knife skills! Along with a good chunk of the population, I did start to bake my own bread; keeping up with a sourdough starter gave me something to look forward to on a daily basis. I also celebrated my birthday during quarantine and decided to bake and decorate myself a small cake.” (Her gorgeous creation is below.)

Quarantine Cake by Julie Kurz Back to the New Normal
Both students are excited for studies to return to some kind of normal. Milano is hopeful that coronavirus-related restrictions won’t preclude her family from seeing her senior-level buffet.

For Kurz, the months of quarantine have prepared her for the new on-campus safety guidelines: “Obviously wearing a mask in a kitchen for 6-hour labs 5/7 days a week will get exhausting but I think it’s just smart for everyone to be safe rather than sorry,” she noted. “I’m glad that the university is taking the right precautions in response to the virus and I just hope that my fellow classmates will do their part to ensure everyone’s safety in the coming months.”

University photographer Mike Cohea captured reopening day in all its excitement and newness. You can also watch this fun 360° view of Chef Mitch Stamm’s class in action their first day back on campus. (Get the full effect by moving your cursor around the room.)


Reopening Safety Signage

Heading to Labs

JWU Providence Culinary Operations Assistant Alexandria Milano

Culinary Reopening Bridget Sweet and Cynthia Ferron on Campus

JWU Providence Teaching Assistant Julie Kurz

Culinary Reopening Student Trio