Sodexo's Justin Kaderlik is helping change the food culture at Bethel
News | Matt Kelley
Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Bethel Communications and Marketing
While its contemporaries are more concerned with corndogs than chicken cordon bleu, the Monson Dining Center is home to some of the best chefs in the state. And that’s exactly how executive chef Justin Kaderlik planned it.
As an accomplished chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Kaderlik has set high standards when hiring the more than 50 members of his kitchen staff. Applicants must exhibit knife skills, culinary knowledge and a passion for food to even be considered. Most have previous experience either working in or owning a restaurant, preparing them for the fast pace of professional food service.
“If I don’t get those quality people in the door, I’m not going to have quality food on the lines – simple as that,” Kaderlik said.
But hiring talented chefs is only the beginning of Kaderlik’s influence over the DC kitchen. As the leader of the entire cooking staff, he purposely attempts to challenge his chefs to be more creative, to create new dishes and to develop their skills.
The most recent example of this growth plan was the 25th annual Taste of Elegance competition, held Tuesday, Jan. 15. Sponsored by the Minnesota Pork Board, this cooking competition featured 17 of the best chefs in Minnesota. Kaderlik was the only invitee who works at a dining hall.
Despite the unique distinction of being a non-restaurateur, Kaderlik feels that his experience at Bethel has prepared him and his crew for competitive cooking.
“What we do at Bethel is more demanding than a competition,” he said. “Here, students are going to be at the door at 11 o’clock whether we’re ready or not. There’s no leeway.”
Since the competition was sponsored by pork farmers, the only rule for creating recipes was that pork – in any form but tenderloin – had to be the main entrée ingredient. But when Kaderlik sat down to create the menu, he realized he wanted to challenge himself and his crew further. He initiated a six-week voting process to select three key ingredients and a country of origin. When the dust settled, he was forced to make a recipe that incorporated pistachios, morel mushrooms and balsamic reduction into a pork dish, packaged in Spanish or Portuguese style.
Kaderlik decided to make a pork belly Redondo de carne, a flat cut of meat stuffed with morel mushrooms and sweet pimentos then rolled into a log shape. On the side he served a Spanish onion and olive potato stack and pan-fried asparagus. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is – the recipe is five pages long, single-spaced.
Add the fact that Kaderlik had only attempted to prepare the dish once before the competition and it’s easy to see why he calls himself a risk-taker.
“I knew how it would look in my mind and I knew how I would do it, but I didn’t know if it would work,” he said of his creation. “The only way to get to that next level of greatness is to take the risk.”
And according to Nicole Schneider, one of Kaderlik’s assistants at the Taste of Elegance, greatness was achieved.
“It’s so good,” Schneider said after the team’s only trial run. “I’ve never had anything so flavorful before.”
Schneider, who started working at Bethel in August, was chosen as an assistant because she participated in every step of the ingredient selection process. The other assistant was veteran Chris O’Neal, who was next in line after narrowly missing an opportunity to join Kaderlik at a state fair display.
Since he also works at a few other schools and travels between them, Kaderlik uses the competitions as ways to develop his staff so they’re not completely reliant on his presence. Schneider said the tactic works and that Kaderlik’s knowledge and steady presence have made her a better, more confident chef.
And the experience in the DC kitchen has been mutually rewarding. Kaderlik could have chosen to represent any of the schools that he works at, but he said that Bethel is his home.
“Bethel is a different animal because of the camaraderie and because people care,” he said. “I would much rather represent a college with Christian values like Bethel, because of what I’ve gotten out of the experience here.”