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Job Corps culinary educator named top South Dakota chef

Posted By Boxelder Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center On June 6, 2012 @ 1:06 pm In Uncategorized | No Comments

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Recently, Chef Dave Levesque, Culinary Arts Instructor at the Boxelder Job Corps was recognized by the South Dakota Chapter of the American Culinary Federation. Mr. Levesque was interviewed by South Dakota Public Broadcasting, which may be heard here [2].

Below is an article originally published by the Rapid City Journal, story by Mary Garrigan. This news article may be found here [3].

South Dakota’s Top Chef is a top educator, too.

After 30 years in the food service business, chef Dave Levesque has worked in just about every kitchen environment possible: restaurants, hospitals, hotels, and even military cafeterias in the U.S. Air Force. For the past eight years, the students in the Boxelder Job Corps culinary arts program have benefited from Levesque’s wide-ranging cooking experiences.

“So when the opportunity to teach came up, I thought now’s a good time to teach others all my skills,” Levesque said. “It’s been the most rewarding job ever since.”

Recently, Levesque was chosen by the South Dakota chapter of the American Culinary Federation as Chef of the Year for the state.

Levesque’s fellow ACF member, Alpine Inn chef Clark Braun, said the honor is the highest award the statewide chapter gives. The Sioux Falls and Rapid City chapters combined into one group several years ago. Levesque is well-deserving of the award both for his cooking abilities and for his community involvement, Braun said.

For the past several years, the Top Chef award has gone to Sioux Falls area chefs. ACF chapter president Jeff Slather, an ACF-certified pastry chef at the Colonial House restaurant, is happy to have the award back on the western side of the state. Both Slathar and Braun have also won the annual award.

“He’s done a lot of work in the community,” Slathar said about Levesque, who volunteers his time and talents for fundraising events for various nonprofit organizations, including the Rapid City Club for Boys, YFS Inc. and the Vucurevich Foundation. “We raise money for scholarships for culinary students and he’s also been involved in our fundraisers.”

Levesque, 48, is a graduate of Johnson & Wales and is certified essential culinary educator through that school. He is on a mission to help young people get started in the food service industry.

The Boxelder Job Corps, a residential jobs training program for young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, is a great place to do that, he said. Located in the Black Hills National Forest near Nemo, the school has 24 students in its culinary arts curriculum, which is one of 10 different trades taught at the school. There’s a waiting list to get into Levesque’s program, and the average student takes about 14 months to complete it. Once they do, they have ServSafe credentials, an important accreditation in the food service industry, as well as excellent knife skills and other industry training. That qualifies them to go directly to work in a higher-paying position in a commercial kitchen, or to apply to an advanced culinary school for further training.

Justin Christie is one of two culinary arts students who graduated last week.

Christie, 22, wants to own his own restaurant some day, and Levesque’s training is helping him accomplish his dream, he said. “He’s absolutely a good teacher. “We learn so much in the classroom. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned.”

Students hone their classroom skills through a variety of catering jobs. The U.S. Forest Service, the South Dakota National Guard and a variety of nonprofit organizations use the Job Corps culinary program for their events.

“We do a lot of catering for nonprofits,” Levesque said.

Christie was among the students who helped cater the ACF event where Levesque was named Chef of the Year.

“It was really cool to know that we were being trained by one of the best,” Christie said of Levesque’s award.

Culinary trade students also staff the mobile fire kitchen that the culinary arts program runs for the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression District.

“I manage the mobile fire kitchen. That’s a great opportunity for students,” Levesque said about working in a commercial kitchen on wheels that feeds firefighters on site during large fires.

“One of the things I love about this field is that there are so many different opportunities for my students,” Levesque said. Many of them have never spent much time in any kitchen, much less a commercial kitchen. “I start from scratch with them. Most of my students have never even been in a kitchen like this,” he said.

Knife skills and safety are the first things he teaches at the culinary arts building. “If they complete the course, they leave with those knives,” he said.

In addition to teaching them how to cook, Levesque also incorporates lessons about nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices and food sustainability into the course. They also leave trained in CPR and first aid. Students get on-the-job training at several work-based sites, including the Job Corps’ dining center, the Alpine Inn in Hill City or the Colonial House restaurant in Rapid City.

“We find out what they’re good at, and we send them on their way,” Levesque said. His graduates have gone to work for area restaurants, a San Francisco bakery and a cruise line in Honolulu, Hawaii, among other places. Some are currently attending culinary schools on ACF-funded scholarships.

Christie will enroll at the Treasure Island, Calif., Job Corps, which has an advanced culinary program.

“I’d like to open my own restaurant some day,” he said. “Until I joined the trade, I didn’t really realize it was something I could do.”

When he’s not teaching or feeding firefighters, Levesque and his wife, Tonda, like to entertain at home.

“I love to cook. We like to entertain at home. My wife’s a fantastic cook herself,” he said.

The couple met when Levesque, a Bristol, Conn., native, was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

During the summer months, that likely means an appetizer of Tomato-Basil Bruschetta, followed by beef brisket and a homemade dessert, since Levesque enjoys baking.

“I love to bake and I love doing cheesecakes,” he said.


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[1] Image: http://www.jobcorpsnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/IMG_9732.jpg

[2] here: http://sdpb.org/newsite/shows.aspx?MediaID=60793&Parmtype=RADIO&ParmAccessLevel=sdpb-all

[3] here: http://rapidcityjournal.com/lifestyles/job-corps-culinary-educator-named-top-south-dakota-chef/article_524ad064-fe78-5c61-8aa4-aee8ba79807c.html

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