Monday, May 10, 2010

New Food Systems Director Expands Classes

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College public relations manager

Rio Salado College's new Café@Rio will have more additions than just an expanded dining space when it opens in June. The café will be managed by Michael Hodgins, the college's new Sustainable Food Systems director, who will be using the kitchen as a classroom for the program's hybrid courses.

Hodgins, who graduated from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1994, joined the college in April and brings an abundance of culinary experience to the Tempe-based college, 2323 W. 14th St., Tempe.

"I started in the food industry when he was 15 years old in upstate New York," Hodgins said. "I've done everything in the industry from owning my own restaurant to working in country clubs to cooking in sports and entertainment venues. Two places I worked at were the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Chase Field when it was called Bank One Ballpark. I worked in the upper-end suites and got to cook for the players. It was a great experience."

Most recently, Hodgins worked as an executive chef at Bon Appétit, which is a sustainable foods contractor in the Valley. It was during this time that he realized he had a passion for sustainable foods. It is this passion that led to him becoming a program director at Rio Salado College.

"My introduction to the program and Rio Salado College came when I became a member of its advisory council," said Hodgins, who lives in Chandler. "I've been a kitchen guy my entire career and this program drew me toward wanting to work at Rio Salado. There are not a lot of places that have sustainable food programs."

In the Sustainable Food Systems program students will learn about the real food movement, how food is produced and purchased, and even preparation techniques for the cooking and baking process.

"Sustainable foods are foods that we can use without jeopardizing future generations," Hodgins said. "We will be buying from local farms, which will cut down on food being shipped from far away, and we will grow our own food in the new garden at Rio Salado's main campus."

Hodgins has a lot of experience teaching food safety classes and doing demonstrations for crowds, but this is his first time teaching at an educational institution.

"I'm currently teaching the Study of the Global Food System and its Impacts, which focuses on the movement toward sustainable food systems," Hodgins said. "In a couple of weeks I will be starting Sustainable Restaurant Practices, which covers energy efficient appliances and equipment, electricity and water conservation practices, environmentally friendly kitchen products and methods for disposal of waste, and much more."

According to Hodgins, the courses will appeal to anyone who wants to learn about sustainable foods, not just those in the culinary industry.

"There is so much to learn about sustainability," Hodgins said. "There are a lot of people using the term 'green,' but this program will truly show them a more in-depth look at what sustainability and being green means."

To learn more about Rio Salado College's Sustainable Food Systems program, visit