Today marks the 30th anniversary of Greene County’s favorite meal of the year – the Greene County Career and Technical Center’s Christmas buffet.
To celebrate the milestone, multiple alumni returned to the kitchen to work with the culinary students, including Steven Lenhoff, a Mather native who graduated in 2001 and went on to study culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in New York. He’s done “tour catering” with different bands and musicians in California, but now works as a chef and retail director for Silvershell Kitchen and Counter in Easton.
“I haven’t been able to come back and cook with the students in a long time, so I’m excited,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been almost 20 years since I graduated, so I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Wagner again.”
Dan Wagner, director of the culinary program at GCCTC, said this year brought in a group of new students, since many graduated last year.
“We have a fantastic group,” he said. “Everyone has a lot of energy. The whole CDC has just been thriving.”
Chef Jeff Cecil, with Sullivan University, worked with students again this year along with Executive Chef Oliver Beckert from Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Wagner said he appreciates how much each of them “care about the kids” and how they “inspire them to go into the culinary field.”
Beckert was in the kitchen with students Wednesday helping them prep for Friday’s feast, in what’s become a Christmas tradition over the last three years.
“It’s grown into a great relationship and Dan is a great friend of mine,” Beckert said Wednesday.
The relationship began in January 2017, when Beckert invited Wagner and some of his students to complete a weeklong group internship at the hotel the week of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“It really saved my life,” Beckert said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. There was just so much to do. They came to help me, so I’m here to give back. It’s a way to keep the relationship alive.”
Beckert spent Wednesday and Thursday working with the students on several dishes that will make up the lunch spread, including a seafood chowder; savory bread pudding, which is like a Thanksgiving stuffing in a muffin-sized cup; clothesline bacon, which is exactly what it sounds like – crispy, thick-cut bacon dangling in front of a hungry crowd; and a red cabbage dish with apples and apple cider, which is Beckert’s grandmother’s German recipe.
“We have something new every year,” he said. “I wanted to incorporate some of the dishes we do at the hotel.”
Wagner said he was amazed Beckert took time out of a busy holiday schedule at the hotel to spend time teaching culinary students in Greene County.
Beckert said the hotel is at full capacity this week and will have between 5,000 and 6,000 guests coming for different private parties. On Saturday, he said his team will be preparing breakfast for 600 people, lunch for 650 and dinner for 850 guests.
“This week is a perfect storm,” he said Wednesday. “I was able to sneak out today.”
Beckert, who was born and raised in Germany, said working with the students each year “brings back childhood memories” of his apprenticeship.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “The kids are very motivated, attentive and they want to learn. It’s always fun, and people are super friendly here.”