Students Gain ‘Tons’ of Hospitality Experience at Iconic Event

Published 06.13.2017

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Pennsylvania College of Technology students returned from the 2017 Kentucky Derby with a wealth of experience in high-volume hospitality, courtesy of Churchill Downs food operator Levy Restaurants.

“Working at the Kentucky Derby was an insane, amazing, life-changing experience,” said R. Colby Janowitz, who received both a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and systems and an associate degree in hospitality management from Penn College in May. It was the second trip to the Kentucky Derby for the Westminster, Maryland, native.

Janowitz joined 24 other Penn College students – and faculty member Charles R. Niedermyer, instructor of baking and pastry arts/culinary arts – in the kitchens of Churchill Downs during Derby Week, a series of events that culminates in the storied Kentucky Derby, which this year drew a crowd of 158,000.

Penn College culinary arts and systems students R. Colby Janowitz, of Westminster, Md.; Amaris T. Smith, of Williamsport; and Cy C. Heller, of Milton, work an à la carte lunch in the Turf Room on Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.Students were stationed in the Churchill Downs main kitchen, which handles some of the biggest projects on the property, and in high-end venues throughout the facility. In the main kitchen, they helped to prepare 4,000 bourbon caramel s’mores, 1,200 Guittard chocolate verrines, 3,000 assorted dessert tarts, over 6,000 pounds of roasted New York strip steaks, 1,500 seared chicken breasts and six pallets of roasted baby carrots – among other duties.

In addition to those assigned to kitchens, Penn College students were hired to lead guest services in a new premium venue on the track.

Janowitz worked in the main kitchen in 2016 and this year was assigned to the kitchen that serves the Turf Club, a VIP section of the Downs. There, he said, chefs see the same long days and “mountains of prep” that he had seen in the main kitchen, but dishes are made to order from an a la carte menu. Assigned with him were Penn College students Amaris T. Smith, of Williamsport; and Cy C. Heller, of Milton.

A portion of the Penn College contingent – along with a representative of Guittard Chocolate Co., the college’s chocolate supplier – gather for a photo above the historic track.Janowitz discovered his favorite assignment when the Penn College trio was put in charge of plating salad platters on the final two days of Derby Week (which featured the Kentucky Oaks race, which drew 105,000 fans, on Friday, and the Derby on Saturday), “because we were slammed for hours,” he said.

Levy Restaurants visits campus each year to interview Penn College students for a five-day internship at the Downs during Derby Week. Penn College students have taken part in the Kentucky Derby since 1993.

“The amount of staff that gets together for this event is beyond outstanding, and it takes a true team effort to make it happen,” Janowitz observed. “As students, we are lucky to have the opportunity to work this event, and I’m grateful I experienced it.”

To learn more about the academic majors offered by the School of Business & Hospitality at Penn College, call 570-327-4505.

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.