Meeting with a Chef on the Road to Adulthood

by Gabby Miller

Chef Thomas Rider

photo by Gabby Miller

Chef Thomas Rider prepares Strawberry Caprese Crostini with local strawberries.

He stood before a crowd of college students and alumni. On the table in front of him was a basket full of fresh fruits and vegetables displaying the colors of the rainbow. A grey Chico State Wildcats baseball cap sat on his head, and his black chef’s jacket was lined with red trim and embroidered with his name and title on the front.

It read: “Thomas Rider, Executive Chef.”

“I’m on the Food Network at Chico State,” he said, receiving chuckles from the audience.

On the rainy Thursday evening before spring break more than 60 students arrived at CSUC’s Bell Memorial Union to watch Rider—the executive chef for Associated Students—put on a show.

 “There’s no magic here tonight,” Rider joked. “Just simple ingredients to make delicious food.”

The demonstration was the fourth installment of “Adulting 101,” an eight-part workshop hosted by Student Life and Leadership, the Career Center and the Alumni Engagement Office.

Those in attendance for Rider’s presentation first walked by a small, round table set up with a jug of water, granola bars, fruit snacks and cookies as they made their way to a seat. There they found recipe cards detailing the night’s three courses: Strawberry Caprese Crostini, Farmer’s Market Salad and Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms and Greens.

Rider’s inspiration for the menu came as he contemplated how to make his presentation “adult.”

“Here in Chico, we live in this wonderful agricultural mecca,” he said. “We’re surrounded by fields and livestock and all kinds of delicious things.”

A majority of the food Rider used came from either the Saturday morning Chico Farmers Market or the North Valley Food Hub to show students that supporting local farmers and business is a mutually beneficial decision.

“That was my approach—to try and elicit a community teaching method,” he said.

During the demonstration of the first course Rider roused a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” when he held up a bright red strawberry the size of his palm.

“Where can I get those fat strawberries?” an audience member inquired.

Rider told the man he’d picked them up from the local Farmer’s Market and received a dissatisfied response.

“But those are like 10 bucks.”

Audience members debated whether or not the product was worth the price. Some felt that it was too expensive, but many agreed that they would hand over $10 for the strawberries.

Rider then quickly informed the crowd that he was able to buy enough food for the event to feed about 60 people and spent less than $100 in doing so. The price didn’t include certain items—the pasta used in the main course, for example—but Rider stressed that buying fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers isn’t as expensive as one might think.

As he cooked, Rider answered many more questions about the different types of vegetables he was using while explaining the steps of the recipe in detail. Audience members were able to try a sample of each course after watching it be prepared.

The first course was a play on a Caprese salad — it usually consists of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil and the colors of the ingredients are meant to resemble the Italian flag. Rider took inspiration and created his Strawberry Caprese Crostini: strawberries, queso fresco and basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served over slices of toasted baguette.

Rider’s Farmer’s Market Salad featured fresh, crisp greens and vegetables all locally grown. He shared techniques for how to prepare the dish, including tearing the greens with one’s hands instead of using a knife to prevent bruising and discoloration.

Rider was surprised at the number of people who showed up and was happy to share his knowledge.

“It was really positive; the crowd was engaging,” he said. “Food is my life. Anyone who is interested is a bonus to me.”

One audience member with interest was Danie Schwartz, a recent Chico State graduate who is on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.

“[The demonstration] was informative and easy enough that the average person could do it,” she said.

The Adulting 101 program came about with the help of Mary Wallmark, the program coordinator for Student Life and Leadership. A big audience that Wallmark wants to reach is young alums—a target group that was reached with Schwartz, who attended the food workshop to show support for her alma mater.

Wallmark and others joined together when they saw a need for programs that provide students with skills that they can’t receive in the classroom. “You’re not going over banking in a class,” she said. “But this isn’t just about money management; these are life skills.”

Adulting 101 got its name from being what Wallmark describes as a “funny concept.” She stressed that the ultimate goal is the accessibility factor for students. “You don’t have to be perfect when you come to this stuff,” Wallmark said. “This is your life. We’re all trying to do our best; we all have different levels of skill.”

Workshops that preceded the one on healthy cooking included discussions on basic finance, budgeting skills and identifying personality styles. Wallmark said there was high interest in the series even before the first workshop was held, allowing them to expand their ideas beyond original plans. The series was planned to start off with basic concepts and progress in difficulty with each workshop building off ideas addressed previously.

Program coordinators grouped budgeting skills with healthy cooking to demonstrate that it doesn’t take much money to eat fresh foods rather than sticking to food out of a box or can.

This will be just one aspect that is added next school year when the series is expanded from eight workshops to 16. Wallmark said the plan is to include a healthy cooking presentation both semesters and she has already recruited Rider to lead the presentations again. She hopes to help students better themselves in all aspects.

“The more you can manage your life the easier it is to be academically successful,” Wallmark said. “If we’re not going to do this—who will?”

Gabby Miller is a Chico State senior majoring in public relations who wrote this story for the Magazine Writing class.  As a student journalist, she’s covered a wide range of topics, some of which you can find on her blog.



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