Hog wild for culinary careers
Students have a chance to ‘watch a master work his craft’
The area high school students visiting Iowa Central Community College Thursday for the annual Culinary Career Discovery Day had no idea what they were going to get to see as they were filing into the department’s auditorium.
Chef Michael Hirst, director of the Culinary Arts Program, gave them just a few clues.
“We’re about to watch a master work his craft,” Hirst said.
“We’ve seen the kitchen, we’ve seen the baking,” he continued. “We have a guest outside in the hall who’s about to be wheeled in.”
The “guest” turned out to be lot less lively than one might expect. In fact, he was quite … dead. He had also already been cut in half, lengthwise.
Ethan Bubeck, plant manager at Lewright Meats Inc., in Eagle Grove, introduced him further.
“This is half a hog,” he said. “What should we call it? How about Henry?”
Bubeck has plenty of experience. He made it seem easy as he wielded a laser-sharpened knife.
“I literally grew up doing this,” he said.
Had “Henry” been brought to the plant in Eagle Grove, he would have had a little different day.
“The animal walks into the back of the plant and gets carried out the front,” he said. “In packages.”
Bubeck was properly suited up to work safely: hard hat, cut-proof glove, and a cut-proof device called a belly pad.
“It’s so I don’t accidentally gut myself in front of you,” he said.
The first step in the process, before Henry Half Hog could become a ham, loins, butt and St. Louis style spare ribs, drew a few gasps from the audience.
“The first step is to cut off the head,” Bubeck said. “There’s still meat on it though.”
Kelly Fahnlander, 18, a senior at Sioux Central High School, may, or may not, have been one of those letting out an noise or two when Henry Half Hog became Henry Headless Half Hog.
“It’s a little gross,” Fahnlander said. “It’s OK. I’m not going to stop eating meat because of it.”
Her friend, Karly Boettcher, 17, also a senior, watched attentively.
“It’s interesting how they cut the meat,” she said. “Gross? Not really.”
While the butchering demonstration took center stage, the visiting students also got hands on lessons in the baking lab, the kitchen and at Willow Ridge Restaurant.
“We want the kids to understand it’s more than being a line cook,” Hirst said. “There’s a universe of different skill sets. It’s a journey of discovering what’s in the culinary world.”
Hirst was confident that few, if any, of the students had seen a carcass butchered into the cuts that end up neatly displayed in their grocery store.
“I’m sure they don’t,” he said. “We try to help them all understand where their food comes from, that educational opportunity is kind of a bonus.”
Bubeck made quick work of his craft. In short order, he had Henry Half Hog reduced to what are called primal cuts. Rough outlines in meat that still need some fine detail work done before they’re sold or prepared in the kitchen.
Hirst said almost 20 alumni of the program, instructors and students helped with the various demonstrations.
The other half of Henry Half Hog was used during another session later in the day.