UNT students hone skills with guest chef

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Jeff Zimmerman, center, corporate director of culinary development for ClubCorp, gives instructions on one of his signature dishes to University of North Texas students as guest chef at The Club at Gateway Center on Wednesday in Denton.
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A group of about 20 University of North Texas students dressed in white double-breasted chef’s jackets moved quickly through the kitchen Tuesday at The Club at Gateway Center.

They each had a job to do — one marinated skirt steak with a blend of 17 spices before another student placed it on the grill, while others sliced bread or prepped chowder bowls before the lunch service.

Gliding around them in an all-black chef’s uniform was Jeff Zimmerman, the corporate director of culinary development for ClubCorp, the guest chef for the day. Zimmerman spent the morning directing the hospitality management students through the kitchen before a second group of students served the afternoon’s lunch for about 200 guests.

“It’s a great opportunity to continue to sort of hone our crafts as culinarians, and it’s a great experience to get to work with the chef from ClubCorp who has more than 30 years experience in the industry,” said Jonathan Bona, a senior who was serving as sous chef for the service. “He’s been able to impart some knowledge of his expertise and give us some things to look forward to in our professional careers.”

The Club is run by hospitality management students, who do everything from food preparation to reservations, with oversight from an executive chef and a general manager.

Working in the kitchen for a semester is required in the program, as is working in the front of the house as servers and hosts. Once a semester, the program brings a renowned local chef to lead a lunch service, offering more elevated cuisine and a chance to work with a high-profile chef, said Joe O’Donnell, general manager of The Club.

“Our students atypically are not culinary majors — they go in the direction of hotel general managers, event planners, destination management leaders. But this is their opportunity to get some live, hands-on exposure both to the cooking and the service of food in a fine-dining environment,” O’Donnell said.

Even after spending a year in culinary school at the Art Institute of Dallas, current UNT student Samantha Horvath said the class gives an inside look at the restaurant industry.

“It gives you a different perspective,” she said. “Before this class, I would have never known what goes on back here.”

This was Zimmerman’s first time as a guest chef at UNT, but he is already accustomed to instructional work since he works with a couple of culinary schools in North Texas.

“I like the educational part of it,” he said. “I like working with younger individuals trying to come up in the food and beverage industry.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.


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