‘We’re still not seeing the same pre-COVID volume’: Culinary Arts coordinator

By: Georgia Sigurdson

RRC Polytech is back to in-person learning, bringing a higher volume of customers to The Culinary Exchange (TCE).

TCE is located at the Paterson Global Foods Institute and is a food court-style dining experience. RRC Polytech’s Culinary Arts students make and serve breakfast and lunch, which is a large part of the learning process, said Michael Fitzhenry, the program coordinator for Culinary Arts at RRC Polytech.

“Being open is a big thing, so it’s been… a pleasant switch for us to go back to having that vibrant campus life,” he said. “A lot of our operations are really based on the premise of having students there.”

Culinary Arts students did a hybrid learning approach throughout the pandemic. “We had students in-person for most of our lab classes but arranged for them to be away for most theory courses,” Fitzhenry said.

It’s beneficial to have students return to a more normal learning structure post-pandemic, he added. 

“We see better performance in the classroom, learning, and more engagement in the lessons,” said Fitzhenry. “It’s easier for instructors to get their point across.”

RRC Polytech Culinary Arts students prepare lunch at The Culinary Exchange in Paterson Global Foods Institute on Nov. 2, 2022. (Georgia Sigurdson)

Although TCE is back operating at a larger capacity, Fitzhenry said it’s still not completely back to normal.

“We’re still not seeing the same pre-COVID volume,” said Fitzhenry. “We do see a lot of excitement from our customers to kind of get back in. But again, we still do have a lot of people in the downtown core who were our customer base who have not returned to the office yet.”

Chef Karl Oman, an RRC Polytech Culinary Arts instructor, has seen some of the same customer bases as pre-pandemic but said things are always changing.

“I used to have a lady come in for breakfast every single day,” said Oman. “Every day, I would have her breakfast sandwich ready. Then, all of a sudden, you look at the end of the month and have spent $250 on takeout. So, everybody’s got to scale back a bit.”