Culinary Arts Alumnus Guides Students in Hands-On Kitchen Lesson
Chef Lance Smith received his bachelor’s degree from Penn College in 2006. He is executive chef of The Millworks, a new restaurant, art gallery and artists’ studio in Harrisburg, where he focuses on creating seasonal, sustainable menus. Prior to taking the helm at The Millworks, Smith was part of the critically acclaimed Smoke Restaurant in Dallas, Texas, where he was chef de cuisine, working alongside James Beard Award-winning Chef Tim Byers in creating one of the nation’s leading restaurants in wood-fired cuisine.
At The Millworks, Smith creates seasonal, sustainable menus using food sourced from central Pennsylvania growers. At Penn College, he guided students in a Meat and Seafood Fabrication course in butchering and portioning whole hogs, a practice he uses at his restaurant, where he processes a whole steer and two whole pigs every week.
Two of the three hogs the students processed were donated by Bill Callahan, of Cow-a-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg, who sees meat fabrication as a viable option for culinary arts graduates who choose not to work in a restaurant. Callahan visited the college’s School of Business & Hospitality kitchens to observe the students’ work.
“I can’t think of anyone who would make a better meat cutter than someone who knows the next step. This is a highly skilled profession,” said Callahan, who anticipates a skills gap. “Most butchers are getting close to retirement. It’s going to become a problem for small processors. Small plants have to have these people who can go from primal – large – cuts (of meat) to retail cuts.”
Beyond cutting the meat, Smith and the students used the cuts to smoke their own ham, make bratwursts and pates, and more.
“This is what we do every week in the restaurant,” said Smith. “I have to utilize every single part of a hog, or it’s not of value to me. The bones can be used for broth. I use the head.”
For the students, it’s another lesson in sustainability, which is a focus of Penn College’s hospitality majors. The college purchases as much as possible through local growers for use in classes and Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, a live-learning facility that is open to the public.
Smith was invited to help lead the class by Chef Michael J. Ditchfield, instructor of hospitality management/culinary arts. Smith recalls butchering at least one whole hog when he was in Ditchfield’s meat fabrication class 10 years ago. While on campus, he also visited Chef Paul Mach’s Hospitality Beverage Management Service and Controls class and Chef Mary G. Trometter’s Foundations of Professional Cooking class. Both Mach and Trometter are assistant professors of hospitality management/culinary arts and taught Smith and his wife, Kim (Donahey) Smith, ’06, who is a general manager for Metz Culinary Management, overseeing dining services at Lebanon Valley College.
“This is where my career started,” Smith said. “All of my success came from all of these guys, and I know that wholeheartedly.”
In addition to his positions at The Millworks and Smoke, Smith was chef de cuisine for the popular Tillman’s Roadhouse in Fort Worth, Texas; sous chef for Google in Seattle; and executive chef at Stephan Pyles, a Dallas restaurant where he worked directly with Pyles, who is known as one of the founders of modern Southwestern cuisine.
As Smith has worked his way into leadership positions in the hospitality industry, he’s shared his knowledge with many, but he relished the opportunity to work with the students whose shoes he was once in.
“It’s one thing to teach employees you’re paying,” he said. “But it’s great to be able to work with the students and pass on some knowledge that will be useful to them at some point.”
Penn College offers associate degrees in hospitality management, culinary arts technology, and baking and pastry arts, and a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and systems. To learn more, call 570-327-4505 or visit the School of Business & Hospitality.
For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.