By Sheridan Lane, director, culinary program and operations, Lincoln Land Community College
Last week was a big one for our Lincoln Land Community College culinary and hospitality program. Each year, the first weekend in May, our program works closely with the LLCC Foundation to host the annual Gala: a formal evening with a multi-course dinner for approximately 250 guests.
The event usually includes all of the bells and whistles indicative of a special evening. Stage lighting, decorations, fancy place settings, linens, flower arrangements, a silent auction and many more countless details contribute to the ambiance of such an event.
This year we were still able to pull off an amazing Gala, it just looked a little different. Guests drove up to a red carpet experience for the 15th Annual Gala “Behind the Scenes” which included a four course dinner kit with cocktail and wine pairings. The items in the kit were nearly ready, and just required final baking/finishing to be ready to enjoy.
Under the direction of Chef Sean Keeley, culinary students spent all week prepping, cooking, portioning and boxing up the courses while the hospitality students, with a little direction from myself, created how-to videos to guide guests through the final cooking preparations.
Hospitality students also assembled mixed, ready-to-enjoy cocktails and packed selected wines to accompany each course. With guidance from Certified Master Pastry Chef Mary Pepka of Illini Country Club and Chef Jolene Lamb from the LLCC Culinary Institute, baking and pastry students made desserts, cookies and truffles. In all, 30 students, five instructors, two assistants and the logistical planning well over a month in the making gelled to ensure kit pick-up was a success.
At one point last week, amidst the unfolding organized chaos, it occurred to me just how good it felt to be working together. I couldn’t help but smile at the sheer amount of teamwork that was happening and marveled at just how good that in-person work really felt. I certainly hope guests that picked up Behind the Scenes kits were able to extend that sense of teamwork as small groups of would-be Gala attendees tackled finishing their dinners at home.
To me, so much about making great food is just that – working together to make something special for all to enjoy. The idea of collective cooking is true all over the world as cultures embed cooking events to spread the workload and share in the preparations. For example, in many Latino cultures, “tamaladas” are hosted to create an assembly line style of creating tamales. Everyone gets to enjoy the tamales in the end and the shared workload makes it a little more fun.
As we head into a special weekend to celebrate moms, if you are celebrating with family and friends, take a moment to stop and enjoy the togetherness of your Mother’s Day preparations, and certainly, if your mom is participating in the cooking, don’t forget to contribute your efforts too. Make up a batch of these refreshing Cucumber Mint Gimlets for your mom and the rest of your guests, and keep your mom smiling by also doing all of the dishes!
Cucumber Mint Gimlet
Lime simple syrup
Zest 2 limes and add 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan. Simmer on stove until sugar is dissolved. Then chill. Once chilled add the juice of 6 limes and the puree of 2 cucumbers. Add 16 ounces of your favorite vodka or gin to the mixture. When ready to serve, in a lowball glass muddle 2 lime slices with 3 or 4 mint leaves. Fill the glass with ice and add 4 ounces of the gimlet mix. Stir to incorporate. Top off your gimlet with a splash of soda water or your favorite sparkling wine. Cheers, and a toast to teamwork!
If you are interested in being added to the invite list for future events through the LLCC Foundation, or if you would like to see what you missed with this year’s Behind the Scenes Gala, visit https://llccfoundation.org/Gala for details and to watch the students in action. If you would like to keep up with LLCC’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program events, please visit our Facebook page.