CANFIELD — Matthew Putzier recalls wanting to play sports all of his life while he was attending middle school in Columbia Station, Lorain County.
However, Putzier soon came to the realization that playing sports wasn’t going to be a lifelong vocation. It was taking a home economics class and cooking with his mother at home that ignited his love for the culinary arts.
“I discovered I loved the culinary arts and I enrolled in the culinary program at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School (JVS). Then I attended the culinary school at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky where I got my associate degree in culinary arts. I moved to the Cleveland area where I got a job working at a Mediterranean restaurant called M Bistro in Westlake. The owners of M Bistro were Greek and so we had an American and Greek menu,” Putzier said.
Putzier worked full-time for years at M Bistro to gain industry experience in order to qualify for his career tech teaching license in culinary arts education. The plan paid off as Putzier has been a culinary arts instructor for juniors and seniors at the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center in Canfield for the past 15 years.
“Tim Michitsch, chef-instructor at Lorain County JVS encouraged me to teach culinary arts classes after I substituted for him one day. I applied for jobs all over northern Ohio. I judged a food competition at RG Drage Vocational Careers in Massillon. The instructor there encouraged me to apply at MCCTC because a teacher was retiring there. I felt like I was at the right place at the right time. I interviewed for this position about three or four times with the MCCTC superintendent, John Zehentbauer, and he hired me,” Putzier said.
Putzier discovered his love for southern cooking while attending culinary school in the southern part of the United States. He said he enjoyed the slow home style that is the quintessential feature in southern cuisine.
“Working with the Greek/Mediterranean style of cuisine at M Bistro was a dramatic contrast from southern cooking. When you live in the Midwest, everything is steak and potatoes. I lived in the south for two years and then moved back to the Midwest. The experience of Greek/Mediterranean cooking rounded me out a bit,” Putzier said.
Even though Putzier has not traveled the world, the experience of cooking a wide variety of cuisines has been a way for him to experience various cultures.
“In the last couple of years, MCCTC has hosted some events for Taiwanese chefs. It was a cool experience where I learned that food is a common language and the language of food is universal. The language of food translates easily when you don’t understand the language of another culture,” Putzier said.
For Putzier, there is a contrast between being a culinary arts instructor and working at a restaurant. However , in both experiences you are training and cross-training those you are working with in the kitchen atmosphere.
“I realized that when you are working in a restaurant, you are constantly turning out products. When you get into culinary education, you are also turning out food products. When you are working with students, your students turn into your product. You have to continue to get to know your students. When you are a culinary arts instructor, your goal is to try to make your students adaptable to the workplace and to stay in tune with the industry,” Putzier said.
Putzier said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a great challenge for the restaurant industry as well as enrollment in the culinary arts program at MCCTC. Putzier said enrollment in the culinary arts program during the 2021-2022 school year was back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“I taught culinary arts classes for 12 or 13 years telling students that you will always have a job. When 2020 rolled around, restaurants were closing down during the pandemic. This had an impact on our enrollment. All of these restaurants are looking for employees. Right now, in 2022, the interest in culinary arts, hotel and restaurant management has gone back up. People are currently going back out to eat. Restaurants need new employees,” Putzier said.
Working in the restaurant industry previously prepared Putzier to be an educator in the field.
“When I worked in the restaurant industry, I was always training new servers, new cooks and new employees. So, when it became time to be a teacher, it became natural. When you work at a restaurant, you want to get your food products out to a certain standard. Similar to that, in culinary education, you are trying to get your students out to a certain standard in the professional world. You are constantly trying to make sure students have a standard level of education, passion and drive, so that they can be ready for the workforce,” Putzier said.
The students enrolled in the culinary arts program at MCCTC operate their own restaurant at the school, called The Bistro at MCCTC. Putzier said the restaurant is student run and operated . The Bistro at MCCTC is open for lunch from early November to April.
“The Bistro at MCCTC is open to the public (from early November to April) and the staff at the school eat there as well. We run The Bistro at MCCTC like a regular restaurant, the only difference is I keep the standard menu the same. Students rotate through the different stations at the restaurant so they can learn the whole menu,” he said.
When Putzier is not teaching, he is spending time with his family, and most importantly, doing his fair share of cooking.
“I am married and have three boys under the age of 6. When it comes to cooking at home, I’m trying to get my boys to eat what they need to eat and I’m trying to get them to experience new foods. When I cook at home for my family, I keep up with the variety and I keep up with what is in season. With the culinary arts program at MCCTC, I’m trying to see what is going on in the current industry and work it into my curriculum. Then I do that with my home cooking as well,” Putzier said.