Connecting the Culinarian and the Rancher

A chef and a rancher have more in common than one would assume: long hours, sometimes-grueling environments and a rewarding day’s work.

Five young Angus ranchers gathered alongside five Johnson & Wales culinary students for the inaugural Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Connecting the Culinarian and Rancher event, where they had the chance to learn from each other, and then break bread together.

“We saw this as an opportunity to bring the young generation of ranchers and the young generation of culinarians together in one space to have conversations about the who, why, what and ‘How can we do this better?’ of both raising cattle and serving beef in a restaurant,” says Ashley Breneman, CAB executive chef. “This also gave these students the chance to establish lifelong relationships at opposite ends of the beef supply chain.”

Ten students attended the inaugural Certified Angus Beef Connecting the Culinarian and Rancher event: (L to R) Aroura Hammond, Lydon Olivares, Lauren Gilbert, Garrett Ulmer, Aidan Kincaid, Elijah Smith, Jace Dickerson, Ben Morris, Colter Pohlman, Mia Encinias
South Carolina rancher Garrett Ulmer shares about the importance of animal nutrition to the group at Chippewa Valley Angus Farm.

The students spent the morning at Chippewa Valley Angus Farm, where the young ranchers each discussed topics related to raising cattle. Animal nutrition, Angus breed characteristics and genetic selections, animal care and handling, sustainability and live-cattle marketing gave insight to the culinary students about what it takes to produce a high-quality steak.

“Even though we come from different backgrounds and totally different ends of the country, we all end up having the same end goal,” says Mia Encinias, West Texas A&M animal science student. “As ranchers, our goal is to create the best product possible, but the chefs’ is to serve it. Without one another, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

Culinary student Aidan Kincaid provides tips as rancher Colter Pohlman checks the temperature of his steak.

Once the students were back at the Certified Angus Beef Culinary Center, chefs Ashley Breneman and Peter Rosenberg led a taste panel for the students to taste the difference between grades of beef. Then, they shared their tips for cooking the perfect steak as chef-rancher teams paired up to put their grilling skills to the test.

“I was paired up with a young rancher and we cooked our steaks together,” says Aroura Hammond, culinary student. “I utilized techniques that I’ve learned in culinary school, and it was really cool because at the ranch, I didn’t really know anything. Behind the grill and countertop, they didn’t really know anything. The script was flipped.”

Hammond, a bachelor’s culinary student at Johnson & Wales University, had never spent any time on a cattle farm before visiting Certified Angus Beef and Chippewa Valley Angus in Wooster, Ohio. After spending a day with peers who’ve grown up on farms and ranches across the country, she was astounded by the similarities between being a farmer and a chef.

“From what I’ve learned so far, and I’ve just barely scraped the surface, ranchers work long hours and they truly care about the product they are producing,” she says. “They’re not the ones cooking it, but it’s years and years of hard work, genetic development and care for the cattle that leads to the production of this dish and these steaks that we serve.”

She went on to share how long hours in the kitchen and years of hard work to develop the skill necessary to make a great product that guests desire and keep coming back for is challenging, yet that’s her goal.

“I think that there are a lot of similarities between us, and the shared passion and love for the product has been really cool to experience,” Hammond says.

More than learning about how cattle are raised and how to cook the perfect steak, (L to R) Aroura Hammond, Lauren Gilbert, Elijah Smith and Mia Encinias now realize how important the relationship is between a rancher and a chef.    

Beyond the hands-on education, conversations about the students’ experiences were shared with each other. Everything from stories from the kitchen and the ranch to the swapping of movie recommendations and notes of accuracy in movies like Ratatouille and Temple Grandin are.

“Oftentimes, we talk about the disconnect as producers, but it was really eye-opening to see that these people want to know what we do and how we do it,” says Lauren Gilbert, University of Missouri agriculture business student. “We can do a better job of sharing what we do on the farm and one way to do that is to establish these relationships and keep in touch.”

The culinary students felt similarly after the event.

“This experience has just been a really unique opportunity,” Hammond says. “I didn’t know anything about Certified Angus Beef or where my product was coming from. So to experience these young ranchers, meet them face to face and hear them tell stories about their families, it’s been really cool to break bread and share our skillsets, our experiences and connect over things that I had never even anticipated or expected before.”

Leaving the event with new friends and fresh perspectives, the students took their experiences back to their campuses and family ranches with nimble hands, open minds, big ideas and a newfound responsibility to consider the opposite end of the supply chain when making business decisions down the road.

More importantly, these students learned they will always have a seat at each other’s tables no matter where life takes them.

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