Continuing Education chefs cook for emergency room workers

April 17, 2020 | Allura Garis - San Diego Continuing Education

When culinary arts student, Marcus Smith, Sr., became aware of the immediate need for ready cooked meals at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, he had to do something. He looked to his school for help. Chef instructors at San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) will be donating a full-course lunch to the South Bay hospital this Sunday, April 19 and again on April 25. 

Marcus Smith and wife Shanita Smith
Culinary arts student Marcus Smith and his wife, Shanita Smith.

Smith’s wife, Shanita Smith works as an emergency room nurse inside of the Scripps COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Unit with 35 other ER nurses.

“The hospitals in downtown are receiving an outpouring of food donations since they are surrounded by restaurants. Unfortunately, Chula Vista is not seeing the same generosity being on the outskirts of the city,” said Marcus. “These essential individuals are also putting themselves and their families in jeopardy every day. I want to support her and show her colleagues that their community supports them as well.”

With a son at home, the Smith family is taking extra precautions, social distancing from one another and keeping Shanita’s PPE gear in the garage. Shortly after his wife explained the scarce climate of food service operations at Scripps, Marcus wondered if his instructors at SDCE would be interested in serving the healthcare unit.

“Our culinary department has been thinking for a long time on how to give back right now. We are so thankful Marcus brought this opportunity to us,” said Chef Megan Leppert. She, along with SDCE Chefs Lee Blackmore and Nikki Austria, planned the menu around new hospital guidelines. “Given the current circumstances, we didn’t have many options, we had to consider what we could do that is hearty and nutritious but also easy to transport and reheat.” The first drop off will include a ground beef chili, a vegetarian chili, a garden salad with balsamic dressing, cornbread with honey whip butter, and a dessert platter.

“Hospitals across San Diego are expecting to see the most hospitalizations over the next few weeks. We want to make sure that food is provided to them as that influx occurs,” added Leppert. “Their cafeterias are running short on food and are often closed at night. So, we are also figuring out an evening shift drop off. Our faculty and students are donating their time, money, and supplies to make this happen.” 

At SDCE, culinary arts and hospitality students spend ten months on cooking principles, including knife skills, safety and sanitation standards, and the next two on advanced level cuisine preparation, restaurant operations, molecular gastronomy courses and food and beverage management. Due to the urgency to protect public health in the wake of the COVID-19 SDCE has transitioned to alternative/remote modes of instruction through the spring semester.

“It has been a learning curve transitioning a fast-paced hands-on program to go fully online. Students are working on resumes, doing research projects on regional and ethnic cuisine, concepting nutrition and diet plans, business plans that include demographics and location,” said Chef Blackmore. “No one knows what our industry will look like moving forward, but we will continue to prepare our student chefs to be well-rounded for the workforce.”

This May, Marcus will graduate SDCE with a Culinary Arts certificate with plans to continue his education and open a barbeque/French fusion food truck. “This is a dream that I was never able to afford in the past,” he said. “I never enjoyed going to school before.”

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