New Executive Chef at SCC brings experience to the table

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Since graduating from Southeast Community College’s Food Service/Hospitality program in 2008, Mike Vandenberg couldn’t believe the recent upgrades in the kitchens and classrooms.

“Brandon (Harpster) gave me a tour, and seeing the new facility just blew me away,” Vandenberg said. “I joked how I might go through the program again so I could work in these kitchens.”

SCC recently spent $4.2 million renovating the space for the Culinary/Hospitality program, as well as adding the new high-end restaurant, Course. Vandenberg is the executive chef in the new restaurant, which is run primarily by students. Course is open for lunch four days a week and dinner once a week. Students spend a term working in the restaurant so they get a feel for the industry.

“Every quarter I get an entirely new staff, so it’s like opening a new restaurant every nine weeks,” Vandenberg said.

That’s familiar territory for Vandenberg as he took part in opening many restaurants in Lincoln, including Fireworks, Dozo and Single Barrel. Harpster, former program chair and now instructor, also is a chef at Single Barrel, and that’s where Vandenberg’s link back to SCC originated.

“He influenced me and encouraged me to apply,” he said. “I’m familiar with the program and I know the building, and everyone is really helpful and encouraging.”

Vandenberg started working at the Stack-n-Steak restaurant as a high school student in Columbus. He caught on easily and loved making his favorite meal of the day, breakfast.

“I love making breakfast, and I love eating breakfast,” he said.

He hopes to continue that passion with the possibility of a weekend brunch buffet, one of many ideas he has for the restaurant.

“I’d like to see the lunches fill up, do more regular dinners here, and it would be fun to promote special events as well,” he added. “It’s a beautiful dining room and kitchen. I want to see it used as much as possible.”

With 16 years of restaurant experience, Vandenberg is looking forward to using his knowledge to help the students while working in a state-of-the-art facility.

“I get a personal joy out of teaching,” he said. “Seeing a student, when we correct a mistake, and then seeing them do it (correctly) on their own gives me a good feeling.”

Harpster says his past experience and high standard of quality will directly benefit the students under his tutelage.

“Mike will help the program students be better prepared for working in the industry, which is a goal for the program,” Harpster said. “The ability he has to operate the kitchen with such high standards will help solidify the standards we have set for the program.”

In the meantime, Vandenberg is getting used to his new surroundings and his new hours. This is the first time he’s had “normal” hours at work, since he spent the past 16 years working nights and weekends.

“I’m getting used to it,” he said. “It’s like I tell my friends, I finally got an ‘adult’ job.”

Challenges facing him are creating awareness about the restaurant and filling it up each day.

“If we don’t have people in there, it’s hard for the students to learn,” Vandenberg said.

He also reminds patrons the money spent on dining at Course goes right back into the program, so it’s well worth the investment.

“I firmly believe you should go out to eat a lot,” he said. “Lincoln has a good restaurant scene if you find it. We are one of many.”

To make reservations or find out more about the student-run restaurant, Course, log on to our website https://www.southeast.edu/course/

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For more information contact:
Andrea Gallagher
Marketing Specialist
402-323-3395
agallagher@southeast.edu

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