For its annual Thanksgiving Feast, Orange Coast College’s catering service prepares dozens of turkeys, hams, bread rolls, pies and other pastries to ease the stress of holiday cooking.
A team of nearly 50 culinary students and staff work to prepare the feast and baked goods all made from scratch.
“I really want my students to learn how to make things by hand otherwise you don’t learn anything. We’re making things for people to share with their family on a special day, so we’re going to make it well,” Cafeteria Supervisor and Culinary Arts Instructor Chantale Grandmont said.
Grandmont said culinary arts is her truest passion. Through the Thanksgiving Feast, she said she enjoys the organization of overseeing the production of dozens of baked goods, teaching her student workers, and feeding her surrounding community for the holidays.
“The week of Thanksgiving, we do have a lot to do, but they (the students) don’t realize that until they see how much they have to do, but without them I wouldn’t be able to finish everything,” Grandmont said.
The week of Thanksgiving, Grandmont said it takes six days to bake everything by distribution day on Wednesday. She arrives to work earlier than normal at 2 a.m. every day while her students arrive at 4:30 a.m., though she asks her students to arrive earlier at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
“To wake up that early in the morning, you have to love your job,” Grandmont said. “It’s very demanding physically and you need to think quick. Even though I looked stressed, inside I’m not.”
Culinary Chef Richard Espinachio was a culinary student and employee in the culinary department five years ago, and returned to work at OCC in February.
For the Thanksgiving Feast, he’s in charge of overseeing that the action plan goes well while maintaining the daily student center service.
“I’ve done this for a couple of restaurants I’ve worked for in the past, but this is different, it feels a little bit more organic and more connected to the college,” Espinachio said. “At OCC, because we touch students, children at the center, employees who work for the school and we also touch people outside of the school. It’s kind of like a collective spirit.”
The college’s catering service began selling full Thanksgiving Feasts in 2012 but had been selling baked goods for many years prior.
This year, the construction near Watson Hall blockaded the walkway between the Student Center and the parking lot, so a “drive-through” pickup system was set up. The Thanksgiving Feast can be heavy, especially for one person to carry, campus event coordinator Jasmine Nguyen said.
Baked goods available at this year’s sale were dinner rolls, biscuits and “quick bread” — sweet bread loaves with flavors including cranberry and orange, and pies including lemon meringue, pumpkin and apple.
In addition to the annual baked goods sale, the Thanksgiving Feast offers a roasted turkey and all of the trimmings including portabella sage stuffing, fire-roasted yams, cranberry chutney, gorgonzola pecan and field greens salad, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, and a pumpkin pie to wash it all down.
“I love to cook and it’s fun to do it at home, but here, when you get to do it for an enormous amount of people, you think ‘I’m helping people to have their tradition and to have their special dinner. They chose to order their turkey through us so that means we’re a big part of what’s happening, so we want to make sure that’s a quality item they’re getting, and it’s going to help to build another memory for them,’ and it makes me happy to be a part of that,” Espinachio said.
Grandmont, who oversees the students in the kitchen, was once an OCC culinary arts student herself. She said that being a chef and teaching her craft to students is her greatest passion.
“I really like the school. The instructors I had then were very good and they treated it like real life, now I do the same,” Grandmont said. “I don’t see them as a student, I see them as a worker. They need to get ready to work outside and I prepare them to [know how] to operate in a bakery.”
The feast serves six to eight people and costs $125.
There was also an option to buy just a turkey or ham on its own for $50, and sides of mashed potatoes, vegetables and stuffing were available for $12.
Pre-orders were due by Nov. 16 and were made fresh and ready for pickup by noon Nov. 21 — the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Nguyen, who works on logistics and planning for the Thanksgiving Feast, said the preparation process takes over two months.
“We serve a lot of people in the community, a lot of people have been coming here for our Thanksgiving Feast for years,” Nguyen said. “We’re a part of a lot of families’ Thanksgiving tradition, so we work hard to make it special.”