Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
An Howard Hill does more than just talk the talk about food. She lives and breathes it.
“I love food,” she said. “And I think a big piece of this is seeing people happy when they have a delicious meal. That sense of satiety and fullness is so good to see. You can see it on people’s faces.”
Her passion for food and treating others serves her well. Beginning next month with the start of fall semester 2013, students enrolled in Meridian Community College’s new career and technical program, Culinary Arts Technology, will also have the chance to blend learning and doing under the direction of Hill.
According to Dr. Richie McAlister, MCC associate vice president for workforce education, the Culinary Arts Technology concentration will provide a foundation in the methods and science of cooking through exposure to Classical, American and International cuisine as well as the art of baking and pastries. Students will get a good measure of exposure to culinary tools, equipment, techniques and specialty ingredients.
Two options are available for students: a one-year certificate in culinary arts and two-year associate of applied science degree in culinary arts. This new program complements MCC’s long established Hotel Restaurant Management Technology Program, which is under the direction of industry veteran Mark Chandler.
The addition of the Culinary Arts program to the college’s lineup of 54 career and technical education programs comes at an opportune time.
“Meridian is not only a medical hub, but also the region’s center for retail, lodging, entertainment and food services,” said MCC President Dr. Scott Elliott. “Moreover, Meridian has been designated by the State as the future home of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. Culinary Arts has an obvious nexus with all such industries."
“I’m excited to be on the forefront of something new,” Hill said about the upcoming semester; she’s also pleased in working with Chandler. The two have mapped out classes, tagged textbooks and are developing an internship program. In addition, the two programs will have a new location in the College Park Shopping Center.
Hill’s passion for food stems from her Mississippi Delta, farmer’s daughter roots.
“I grew up in your typical Southern family with mothers and grandmothers who love to entertain … always having a luncheon, a bridal shower,” she said. “So as young as I can remember, from setting a table, icing glasses, to stirring a pot of this and that, I have always loved to cook.”
What she didn’t know was what she wanted to do for a living until she happened upon a part-time job while in college studying journalism.
“I worked in a restaurant – front of the house position as a waiter and eventually became a bar manager,” Hill said. It was when the restaurant needed a pizza dough maker when her food calling came to the forefront. “I said, ‘Hey, I can do that’ and did it. It kind of grew and at this point I realized journalism wasn’t for me.”
The opportunity to work at an agricultural reserve for the Carhart family outside of Seattle, Wash., presented itself and Hill took advantage of it as well as an internship with Rover’s – a Seattle eatery landmark. After working there, she returned home to finish her education at the Mississippi University for Women and traveled south to the food capital of the South – New Orleans.
“That’s when I was hired on at Commander’s Palace,” Hill said, noting she started at the bottom and worked her way up – from garde manger and production to the hot line. “I was offered a position as a butcher and that’s one of the sous-chef (positions) but I declined because I accepted a job with Rouse’s Market.”
One of the Big Easy’s largest grocery chains, Rouse’s Market is as well the ninth largest locally owned chains in the country. While there she served as Culinary Coordinator and Corporate Chef de Cuisine.
“I did everything from go into into the delis to prepare foods and set up new menus and recipes and training the staff, making sure on at least a monthly basis that things were being produced properly, shelves were being stocked and all that,” Hill said.
The grocery gig also yielded a myriad of experiences including that of prepping for festivals – a New Orleans staple. She had a hand in just about everything from getting lined up with events, creating and producing menus, staffing, handling money and breaking down. “It was hard work, but it was fun work,” Hill said.
She also assisted in opening a downtown store, “and that was my last project before we left for Meridian.” Since coming to this area, Hill has worked for a local catering business and has been busy with setting up the new MCC program plus taking care of her family that includes an 11-month-old.
How does she handle it all? “I’d like to say I’m an amazing multi-tasker. God blessed me with that gift, thank goodness,” Hill said.
That passion to pass on the love of cooking won’t go on the back burner for Hill. She added, “the culinary world is a never-ending education.”