Cajun Spice on the Chef’s Table

By Beacon Staff

The student kitchen at Flathead Valley Community College is about to get spicy as it prepares to tap into some very deep, southern roots.

This Friday, FVCC’s popular Chef’s Table program adds another delicious facet to its weekly dining experiences, as it debuts its new series of specialty dinners with “Taste of New Orleans.”

FVCC chef instructor Howard Karp describes the series as a unique way to construct a menu and also a way to garner more interest in the already-popular program.

Chef’s Table is a built-in internship program for junior-level culinary students at FVCC. The students work to put together multi-course dinners each Friday of the semester, 16 in all, shifting from service, appetizer, main course and dessert duties.

It has made a splash in the Flathead, with several sold-out dinners and now new events for the public to attend.

“(The program is) doing very well; very, very well,” Karp said. “We’re in demand.”

And the chef’s new strategy seems to be working. The New Orleans dinner sold out quickly, Karp said, much like the winemaker dinners held twice a semester.

“In fact, we have a waiting list of over 30 people,” Karp said.

Considering the menu, there’s little mystery in the quick ticket sales. The team of burgeoning cooks will serve a traditional New Orleans crawfish etoufee for the appetizer, complete with shellfish flown in from the Louisiana coast.

“Oil-free,” Karp noted.

The main course consists of Southern-style Cornish hen and crab gumbo, served with dirty rice, followed by traditional Brenan’s bananas foster, served over homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

Casey Jensen prepares tubs of pork to brine during culinary class at Flathead Valley Community College. The pork – Farm to Market pork porterhouse chop stuffed with broccoli rabe and melted garlic – was to be served during the following Friday night Chef’s Table dinner.

With crabmeat being flown in from Maryland and Whaler’s Rum providing the heat in the bananas foster, Karp said the evening should not disappoint the valley’s foodies.

Dinner will also be served family style, with large platters available to scoop and pass around, he said.

To add to the New Orleans ambience and the Fat Tuesday timing, Karp said there would also be gold and silver coins, Mardi Gras masks made by FVCC art students hanging on the walls of the kitchen and, of course, all guests will receive beads to wear.

Though the event is sold out, diners need not despair. There will be other “Taste of” evenings in the future, including those centered on the culinary tastes of countries with famous food influences, such as France, the Mediterranean and Italy.

“You can’t leave New Orleans out,” Karp said. “It’s not a country, but it is in its own right.”

Students in the program said the Chef’s Table dinners help them work on the skills required to run a successful kitchen, such as teamwork, timing and handling the nature of culinary multi-tasking under pressure.

“It is such an experience,” FVCC student Leanne Caltron said as she organized her station in the kitchen. “You learn a lot more when you’re cooking for people.”

Standing at a different station, Joyce Murray, 62, chopped vegetables while prepping for last week’s soup dish. Attending college for the first time, Murray said she spent the first six weeks of the semester as a server, and last Friday was her first time actually cooking for the program.

She got into the FVCC program after a suggestion from job service personnel in Polson, a decision she says has panned out nicely. And while Murray said the learning experience she gains from the Chef’s Table program is valuable, she also said seeing people enjoy the food is a treat.

“We like to please the people who come,” Murray said. “It’s wonderful to see them smile, and it’s nice to make the chef proud.”

Tickets and menus for future Chef’s Table dinners are available online, at or by calling 756-3963.

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