Les Cheneaux Culinary School (LCCS), located in Hessel, was brought to life in September of 2014 by the Les Cheneaux Community Foundation (LCCF), a group of individuals who hoped to grow their local economy by championing a farm-to-table focused vocational school.
Students begin in the fall by visiting local farms and harvesting their own ingredients. This allows students to build relationships with the area’s growers and producers before they even step foot into the kitchen. Once the chef coats are on, they practice knife skills and preservation methods. The focus on fermentation, freezing, and canning extends the short Upper Peninsula growing season. As the winter continues, they focus on culinary techniques with an underlying focus of local food. Even in the dead of winter, you’ll find local eggs and maple syrup as part of the continued recipe testing.
Enrolled students learn all aspects of the food service industry beyond culinary; things like food costing, marketing, food safety and management skills. The small class size is often comprised of students from across the state and beyond – all drawn to the uniqueness of the program and inspired by the connection to local ingredients.
Last September, LCCS partnered with Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, just 45 minutes north of Hessel. The new relationship means students are able to access federal financial aid, Pell grants, and student loans, a very exciting benefit to students. Chef Zach Schroeder also explains the administrative support the bond brings, such as sharing resources and staff at LSSU for things like recruitment and it provides the program and a new source of clients for the summer restaurant.
Dr. Kimberly Muller, Dean of the College of Innovation and Solutions at LSSU, supervises the faculty and staff of the program, ensuring that students are getting the experience they paid for. She says, “It’s a very high quality program, Zach and Spencer Hoffmann both take a thoughtful, hands-on approach.” Dr. Muller had an opportunity to attend the annual New Year’s Eve Dinner this year, one of the few chances to dine in the student-run restaurant during the winter months, and shared positive reviews of the experience.
This partnership also allows LSSU to offer a unique certificate degree program, building on LCCS’s prior success, without having to start from scratch.
Les Cheneaux Culinary School is a hidden gem, much like the Upper Peninsula region itself. The addition of a program with such an important niche, not only does a service to its own community, but to the whole UP region as the area continues to expand its restaurant culture, and define the unique cuisine of the remote and rural environment.
If you want to taste UP local cuisine at its finest this summer, Les Cheneaux Restaurant opens Memorial Day weekend and operates up to Labor Day.
Alex Palzewicz is the U.P. Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference and is currently planning a summer trip to the Les Cheneaux Community this summer to taste what this year’s students are cooking!