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Executive Chef Marissa Riffle & the BGSU Teaching Kitchen

September 18, 2019

School is back in session, and in the world of Marissa Riffle, Bowling Green State University’s Executive Chef, that means lots of hungry students to feed. “Being an Executive Chef at a university draws on many different skill sets. You are not just managing one kitchen, you are overseeing several, and every kitchen is doing something different,” Marissa illustrates. “Collaboration both on and off-campus is unbelievably essential to make everything run smoothly.”

Marissa Riffle has been with Bowling Green State University for 17 years, and has been a chef for 30. An Ohio native, her culinary background includes attending Johnson & Wales University, as well as working as a chef in the tv and film industry in Atlanta. After deciding to return home to raise her daughter near family, Marissa saw that BGSU was looking for a foodservice manager, and her career with them began. “At the time, they did not have any chefs on campus. As time went by, they began to look at hiring chefs, so I returned to what I genuinely enjoy,” Marissa recalls. Currently, Marissa oversees multiple retail concepts, all you care to eat buffets, a full-service restaurant, catering, and a fairly new concept, called the Teaching Kitchen.

 

As the name suggests, the Teaching Kitchen is a cooking classroom, where students and members of the community alike can take classes on all things food. It’s also where the university’s chefs test recipes, and where the kitchen staff gets training. Drawing on Marissa’s cooking background in tv and film, the classroom is equipped with a variety of technology to assist in its many different uses. “There are cameras that we can use to enhance what the chef is demonstrating. The cameras can also be used to record the class to be shown later. The tables for students raise and lower, depending on the age of the students and type of class,” Marissa describes. “We can have students cook at their individual stations or create stations where they can cook as a team. It is fun to see these for either competition or team-building exercises.” Classes offered range from Knife Skills 101 to A Night in Tuscany to a Mommy or Daddy & Me class for parents and their young children.

Marissa explains that “Seasonal availability and choosing the right ingredients is at the forefront of lesson planning… Our classes reflect what is in season and [the] time of year.” Further, inspiration for classes “comes from the chefs, the dietitian, our staff, the students, and the community. For every class we have, new ideas are born from the students that attended.” New classes this school year will be Lunch Lessons (an hour class that you get to prepare your lunch), How to Happy Hour (learn a cocktail and learn a new skill), Falcon Feeders (cooking for 6-12 year-olds) and Coffee Talk with a Dietitian.

 

Having an open dialogue with the younger generation has also made Marissa notice the continuous growth of plant-based foods. “I watch more and more students try options from our vegan station each year. Plant-based options are beginning to help make a switch in the students’ comfort foods, like zoodles instead of pasta, or cauliflower crust instead of traditional pizza crust.” Further, Marissa speculates that imperfect produce “will begin to take a bigger spotlight and start to be used more often by consumers. As everyone, especially students, start to finally realize the large percentage of produce that doesn’t get used because it is not “pretty”, a rally cry will begin to start using instead of wasting,” she says. Her involvement with the students is something Marissa highly values. “I find it extremely important to make a connection with the students on-campus, [as well as] the off-campus community. Food is a way that everyone can bond together.”

On a personal note, we asked Marissa what her go-to dish was at the end of a long day. “Nachos are my answer because I always have ingredients available to make them at home and I never make them the same,” Marissa replied. What does the nacho plate of an Executive Chef look like? Marissa was happy to specify. “Nachos could contain any combination of the following: baked tortilla chips, fried tortilla chips, spicy black beans, garlic pinto beans, refried beans, pork carnitas, grilled chicken or steak, beef machaca, sharp cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese, fresh jalapeno, pico de gallo, salsa verde, or maybe it’s a smoked barbecue pork and white cheddar kind of day. As I said, there is always something in the house to make nachos and unwind after a long and busy day.”

 

 

 Written by Marianna Marchenko