Article and photography by Fitz
As a food journalist, I spend a lot of time talking with chefs. When the subject of hiring good help comes up, line cooks, prep cooks, sous chefs, and the like, my experience has been that it truly varies by chef if they prefer someone out of culinary school or someone that started in kitchens and worked their way up. I definitely can not point to a consensus that I have observed over the years.
Having said that, one trend I most certainly can identify is that The Culinary Institute of Virginia continues to produce graduates who make their mark on Hampton Roads food. Since Southern Grit magazine debuted almost three years ago, many graduates from C.I.V. in Norfolk have graced both the cover of and resided in the feature spreads of the publication. From Chef and Owner of F.M.C. Cafe, Brandon Morrison, to former baker at the Bakehouse at Chelsea, Emily Oyer, to Chef Sayvepen Sengsaveng of Le Mu Eats and many, many more, a steady stream of C.I.V. alumni have come across the magazine’s radar for their contributions to the Hampton Roads culinary scene.
With that in mind, and with more collaborative dinners, food competitions, restaurant expansions, and energy popping up in our local food scene than possibly ever before, we’re spotlighting three current standout Culinary Institute of Virginia students who look poised to add substantially to our evolving food scene here in the Seven Cities.
Mattie Owens- Owens is the current Sous Chef at Town Center Cold Pressed in Ghent, and having already completed her Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts along with a Bachelor’s in Food Service Management, she is currently working on her third degree for Baking and Pastry. As a child growing up with a mom who was constantly making chocolate fudge and pecan pies, Owens remembers the fun she had in the kitchen as a kid when she got to help with prepping the ingredients. The quote from the Disney movie Ratatouille, “Anyone can cook but only the fearless can be great,” also holds a special place in her heart, and likely drew her towards wanting to cook early on as she recalled to me. As a teen about to be a young adult, Owens, who at the time was also pursuing art, decided ultimately to focus on food because as she put it, “I didn’t like giving my art away, but with food, I can make things over and over again and keep seeing people’s appreciation.”
Owens credits instructor Chef Greg Burroughs as seeing her as a “blank slate” when she arrived at the Culinary Institute. In seeing her as such, he helped expose her to several facets of the culinary world that she could explore and learn. The winner of the 2017 Fellowship Award at C.I.V., an award based on grade point average and faculty voting, Owens is a constant volunteer for large scale events held under the school’s creative umbrella around town.
The same dedication she gives to those events she gives to the organization and food prep she does at Town Center Cold Pressed in Ghent. Those skills of Owens that pay dividends in terms of the comfort Chef Michael Holdcraft, chef of Town Center Cold Press, enjoys when expertly shaping her prepped ingredients, were most assuredly cultivated at The Culinary Institute of Virginia.
Michael Wayne Hunter- As a young teen, Hunter felt at home in the kitchen when he would cook for his friends. A few years later he would join the Navy, and while working in supplies, he would often end up in the galley around the chefs and cooks. Around that time Hunter decided a career in the kitchen might be for him.
When he arrived at The Culinary Institute of Virginia, he credits Chef and Instructor Greg Burroughs with instilling in him that the best guy to be in the kitchen, as Hunter explained, “is the guy that everyone wants in the kitchen with them.” As Hunter further explained, “ I’m always open to lending a hand in the kitchen. In time that makes people want to involve you in the things they are passionate about.”
At C.I.V., while Hunter’s been pursuing his degree in nutrition, he has held fast to that ethos by volunteering for events and projects. Furthermore, he prides himself in sticking to that mode in both the Bardo kitchen he used to work in, and in the Blue Moon Cafe at Waterside where he now works professionally. In time, Hunter, a enthusiast for barbecue and smoked meats, plans to work towards opening a small restaurant featuring southern dishes produced with varied low and slow cooking approaches.
Brian Battenfeld- Previously the self proclaimed “King of all Shellfish” at Aw Shucks in Norfolk’s Ghent, and current line cook at the new Commune Restaurant in the Neon District of Norfolk, Battenfeld loves “that food can bring cultures together.” Formerly in the Coast Guard, Battenfeld recalled being amazed at the diversity of food he got to try when he was enlisted and used to island hop. Once out of the Guard, he used his GI Bill to go to the Culinary Institute of Virginia and is currently pursuing his Associate degree in Culinary Arts.
Battenfeld credits C.I.V. with cementing his culinary foundation of skills. As he explained, “Before coming here, I was teaching myself how to build up flavors, it’s helped me get to the point we’re it’s like riding a bike and mom lets you go after showing you how to do it on your own.” At Commune, Battenfeld credits the skills he learned at the institute for helping him execute things the former restaurant’s Executive Chef, Kevin Dubel expected of him.
With that foundation beneath him, Battenfeld in his cooking is, as he put it, “Looking to get different tastes out of the food. I do that by pushing boundaries. I love that food is always changing, and I have fun experimenting.”
For more on the Culinary Institute of Virginia visit- www.chefva.com