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Restaurant management professor teaches "courses" of a different kind

April 8, 2002

For some, food is merely the fuel that gets them through the day. For Cliff Stanfill, it is the fuel that has driven his life's work.

"For me cooking is about more than just energy or taste," said Stanfill, who has supervised the restaurant management program at the Austin Peay Center @ Fort Campbell (APCFC) for 21 years.

"It's a lifelong passion I have for planning, preparing and presenting gourmet cuisine. I especially get major satisfaction from seeing people enjoy the food and drink I have prepared for a special event, and sharing this knowledge with students is equally rewarding."

Stanfill recently returned from Fort Lee, Va., with a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Army's 27th Annual Culinary Arts Competition.

Serving as adviser to the cooking team from Fort Campbell, Ky., which includes 10 active-duty soldiers enrolled in Austin Peay's restaurant management program, Stanfill led his group through two weeks of intense buffet, three-course meal, dessert, nutritional and field cookery in March.

In addition to a seafood platter of lobster, smoked salmon and melon and squid complements, the team submitted a hearty spread of turkey, stuffed baked potatoes and marinated vegetables for review.

Confectionary goodies included Bavarian cream-filled cones with chocolate and brandy snaps and a globe-shaped centerpiece flanked by two doves and a peace ribbon made of pulled sugar.

"Learning how to decorate the plates is my special interest," said Spc. Marlin Garcia, who won third place in the junior chef competition and cold dessert category for her pistachio and almond mousse with brandy snap cookies.

"The creativity you can put into it is exciting and it makes me feel like an artist."

Stanfill offers his students presentation-oriented instruction in ice sculpture, cake decoration and culinary design through APCFC's restaurant management program.

Opting between a food service and culinary arts track, students also can take courses in sanitation, nutrition and menu planning, facility layout and food administration.

"Our program provides a well-rounded introduction to basic food service principles," said Stanfill. "We not only teach gourmet foods and culinary skills but we also show students how to run a restaurant, bar, independent catering or cake decorating business - whatever their calling is. The program is organized for students interested in taking a particular route and prepares them to deal with all aspects of it.

"We even include a business communication class because that will be a major part of their success - knowing how to communicate professionally with their staff and customers."

Beyond academics, restaurant management students can glean from Stanfill's half a century of culinary expertise and experience.

Before becoming a program manager at Austin Peay, he worked in the Army for 29 years with a military occupational specialty in food service.

Stanfill remembers ordering massive beef tenderloins and first-rate wine in bulk quantities for special events hosted by some of the Army's most elite field grade officers.

He said working with the soldiers and sharing his knowledge with them - something he does daily at the Austin Peay Center @ Fort Campbell - was another highlight of his years in service.

"I could have retired altogether a while ago," said Stanfill. "But my reasons for not doing so are simple. I love what I do and I love sharing my work with the people I cook for and the students.

"It's very fulfilling to hear of a graduate who has gone on to own their own cake business or a soldier who has moved up to work for high-ranking officials at the Pentagon because of their training here."

In addition to witnessing the progress of his students, Stanfill said he has seen major changes in food service technology since his pre-Army days, when he washed dishes at a small restaurant as a teen in Columbia, Tenn.

"Back then everything was made from scratch and today it's mainly 'shake and bake.' The newer gadgets and convenience products are nice but I still like the purity of working with natural foods.

"A big plus is how the supply of food has improved. There was a time you could only get watermelon during certain times of the year. Now you don't have to wait for it to be in season; you can get it practically whenever you want."

In spite of the advancements to the culinary field, which he said also includes better refrigeration and the new role of chefs as television celebrities, some things about the profession will never change, according to Stanfill.

"You'll always have a job because people have to eat. And the working conditions are great.

"It's never too hot, it's never too cold and you can always sample."

Restaurant management is one of numerous technical education programs offered by the Austin Peay Center @ Fort Campbell to all members of the community.

For more information, telephone 1445.