Culinary Arts Team

Edesia 2017 also will offer a unique opportunity to sample cuisine prepared by an elite, talented cadre of local chef/educators from Western Colorado Community College’s Culinary Arts program. They will take the lead in preparing the VIP Chef’s Table Luncheon at 11 am and in presenting culinary demos in the afternoon from 2 to 5 pm. Participating Chef/Instructors include Wayne Smith, Deb Henderson, Jon St. Peter and Beth Branscum. They will be assisted by WCI Chef David Kassera and his staff as well as students enrolled in their program.

“We have a real treasure in our local culinary program,” Chef Kassera points out. “We hope that the public, which may not be aware of the high quality of the chef talent or the top of the line facilities at WCCC, will gain a new appreciation for the excellent training happening right here in the Grand Valley.”

The Culinary Arts program at Western Colorado Community College

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Featured Chefs

Assistant Technical Professor Wayne Smith, CEC CCE

Chef Wayne Smith has been instructing students since the Culinary Arts program began at Western Colorado Community College, a division of Colorado Mesa University, in 1998.

With 30 years of culinary experience, including stints at major resort venues in Colorado, Hawaii and California and running his own restaurant, he is uniquely qualified to impart knowledge to aspiring chefs.

Specifically, he teaches Culinary Program Fundamentals, Introduction to Foods, Center of the Plate, International Cuisine, Advanced Garde Manger and Hors D’Oeuvre and Fundamentals of Healthy Cooking.

His courses offer students a hands-on opportunity to apply their leaning to the production of a wide variety of foods as well the science of cooking. His goal is to motivate students to be deeply curious about cooking to the point they forget they are earning a grade.

With other faculty members in the program, he has coached student teams in culinary competitions, where they have earned success on regional and national levels.

Chef Wayne’s culinary interests are varied and include international cuisines, fermented foods, and culinary medicine. Currently, he is studying the sciences to gain a better understanding of how food “works.”

A graduate of Colorado Mesa’s Culinary Arts program, Chef Wayne has served in leadership roles both at the University and with professional groups. He is recipient of numerous culinary awards, and twice has been named Outstanding Educator by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith is a certified executive chef and certified culinary educator through the American Culinary Federation.

No stranger to public service, he has donated his time and skills to help numerous charitable causes over his long career.

When he is not in the kitchen, Smith enjoys skiing, mountain biking, camping, golf, tennis and playing his guitar and ukulele.

Chef/Instructor Elizabeth Branscum

Chef Elizabeth Branscum, aka “Chef Beth,” is the face of the WCCC Culinary Arts to high school students in the Grand Valley. She began her assignment as Technical Instructor of Culinary Arts last fall.

This unique program allows School District 51 students to earn dual high school and college credit in the program by taking classes at the WCCC Bishop Campus in Grand Junction.

Chef Beth’s teaching philosophy can be summed up by this quote from President Dwight Eisenhower: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

Chef Beth began her teaching career at WCCC in 2013 as an instructor of Baking and Pastry Arts . She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Central Missouri and has worked and taught at UCM, the University of Arkansas, and the University of California at Riverside. She loves teaching culinary, as it combines two of her greatest passions: working with college students and cooking.

“I am so excited about our new dual credit high school program. It’s an affordable way for high school students to earn college credit in Culinary Arts and learn valuable job training, and they are also introduced to our community here at WCCC, and figuring out that they can be a successful college student here and at CMU,” she says.

Chef Beth has assisted Chef Wayne Smith with coaching WCCC student competition teams in American Culinary Federation sponsored culinary competitions. She is also a certified ServSafe instructor and test proctor.

A member of the American Culinary Federation, Chef Beth serves on the advisory boards for District 51’s Career Center and Family & Consumer Sciences Department. She is also a member of Lambda Alpha Epsilon, Alpha Kappa Delta, a past president of the Star Chapter of National Residence Hall Honorary, and a former Chief Justice of the Student Government Association at the University of Central Missouri.

When she is not teaching, Chef Beth enjoys socializing with friends, learning about great food, and watching live music. You can frequently find her enjoying a good meal at one of her favorite local restaurants with her friends.

Chef Instructor Jon St. Peter

Chef Jon St. Peter has a special rapport with his students for good reason. His first experience with a culinary program was in high school and he was exposed to his first competition as an assistant at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI.

Chef Jon isAssistant Technical Professor in the Culinary Arts Department at Western Colorado Community College, where he teaches Culinary Program Fundamentals, Advanced Line Prep and Cookery and Techniques of Culinary Competition. Most of his experience has been in white tablecloth dining, culinary competition and culinary education.

Chef Jon currently works with students in the operation of Chez Lena, WCCC’s lab restaurant, and a new course addition in culinary competition.

Chef Jon loves to work side by side with his students immersed in the hands-on operation of taking orders, then preparing and delivering food to patrons.

With heavy emphasis on critical thinking skills and excellent execution of culinary technique, he tries to create a high-caliber environment and invites students to step up to the plate and cultivate their skills through trial, error and reiteration. He finds the potential for creativity employing all senses deeply satisfying.

“All I’ve ever done professionally has been related to the food service industry. Frankly, I don’t really care to do anything else,”he admits.

He has earned an impressive number of professional medals and accolades, including being named Colorado Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chefs Assn. in 2012.

St. Peter received his associate degree in culinary arts from Colorado Mountain College in Keystone, CO, with an Associate degree in applied science and Culinarian Certification through the American Culinary Federation.

With his wife and three sons, Chef Jonenjoys rock climbing, telemark skiing, back packing, elk hunting, camping and gardening.

Chef Instructor Deborah Henderson

Chef Deborah Henderson has a sweet job—literally. She has been a Technical Instructor in the Baking & Pastry Lab at Western Colorado Community College it opened in 2013.

Chef Deb, who earned her associate degree from Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa Junior College), lectures on Introduction to Baking, Confectionaries and Petit Fours, Dietary Baking, Cakes, Pies and Pastry, Cookies, Intermediate Bread Preparation and Individual Fancy Desserts Production.

She brings to her position 17 years of experience as the former baker, decorator and successful owner of The Cake Cottage in Grand Junction. Besides her technical skills, Chef Deb offers her students a healthy dose of pragmatism in training for their future careers.

Although starting anew as a classroom instructor was a challenging career change, being a former business owner gave her credibility and an advantage in teaching the realistic side of the business.

“It gives me the opportunity to mentor students in making good choices in starting businesses, working in various fields, and traveling to grow with the industry.” she explains.

She adds that Baking & Pastries has always been her passion, especially the Decorating and presentation sides of the business.

She works hard to help students find a little of that same passion, always showing them how their goals can be enhanced by some basic skills in their profession. “The instructors here at WCCC are very dedicated to helping our students achieve those dreams,” she emphasizes.

When she was in business, she always tried to contribute to the community by donating time, product, and skills with various organizations. She encourages her students to adopt a similar philosophy.

“Community is the life blood of your work, and everyone needs to understand how important it is to serve,” she adds.

Her goal at WCCC is to develop strong ties to students and the industry by helping students to link with workshops, advanced classes and hands-on internships.

Chef Deb says Colorado Mesa University has also given her an opportunity to continue her own education with a Bachelor’s degree in business or hospitality.

“You’re never too old to make changes in your life,” she observes. “It is a pleasure to be a part of the Western Colorado Community College.”

Chef/Instructor Dan Kirby, AAS, CHE

The Grand Valley’s Godfather of Culinary Arts Instruction

Visionary probably best defines Chef/Instructor Dan Kirby, whether as a noun (person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like) or an adjective (inspired, imaginative, creative, inventive, ingenious, enterprising, innovative, etc.).

Kirby led the way in creating at Western Colorado Community College the training program that provides a creative work force that staffs an increasing number of Colorado restaurants and institutions.

A native of Wisconsin, Kirby drew on his long history as a chef, manager, salesman and entrepreneur in determining that education could be a valuable resource in the community. In fact, it was his HOJO employment that trained him as a chef and manager, eventually bringing him to Grand Junction after assignments in the Midwest and Florida. The man knows the practical side of the food industry.

As he explains it, when he was a representative of Sysco Foods, his clients frequently called on him to find trained chefs and kitchen crew to staff vacant slots. He soon realized that there was no local resource to feed qualified culinary employees into the businesses that needed them.

Coincidentally, then School District 51 Vocational Director Kerry Youngblood was thinking along those same lines. Youngblood was in the process of combining the vocation education campuses of both the district and Mesa State College and relocating them in Foresight Park as the new United Technical Education Campus (UTEC).

Youngblood also recognized the need for culinary training in support of the region’s tourism industry.With support at the state level from Tim Foster, who was a Colorado state legislator at that time, and locally from Lena Elliott, an MSC Trustee, phase two of UTEC, and the culinary arts program became a reality during the 1997-98 school year.

Fast forward 18 years: Tim Foster now is the president of Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State). UTEC has morphed into Western Colorado Community College/a division of CMU. The Culinary Arts program has more than doubled in size to include a second degree offering in Baking and Pastry, and added facilities to teach sustainable gardening. Last semester the program introduced instruction in Viticulture and Enology, enhancing the marriage of culinary skills with knowledge available through the local wine industry veterans.

After 30 years in the culinary field, Kirby has cut back on his class load on his glide path to retirement. As an Assistant Technical Professor of Culinary Arts, he teaches Supervision in the Hospitality Industry, Purchasing for the Hospitality Industry, and is the business manager of Chez Lena Restaurant. With the staff he has recruited and nurtured, he’s confident that even greater opportunities will evolve in the future. Chef/Instructor Wayne Smith, who has been with the program from the beginning, will be his successor and guardian of continuity.

Kirby was named the Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2013 Regional Outstanding Professional award winner, was the recipient of the Colorado Chef’s associations Presidential Medal, and was on the Colorado Restaurant Association Board of Directors from 2008 to 2013.

* Chez Lena, the student-operated campus restaurant, is named for MSU board member and early Culinary Arts program supporter Lena Elliott.

Wine Maker/Instructor Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, BS degree
Leader, Viticulture and Enology, Culinary Arts Program

As any serious foodie knows, great cuisine and wine are inseparable. So it follows that if aspiring chefs are learning to create cuisine professionally, they need to know how to pair wines that compliment their dishes.

That realization, coupled with the fact that the Grand Valley is home to the majority of Colorado’s grape growers and wineries, makes a strong case for the Western Colorado Community College to add new instruction on those specialties.

In the Spring semester of 2017, Jenne Baldwin-Eaton began her new teaching career as Program Lead for Viticulture and Enology at Western Colorado Community College. This is the first program of its kind in Colorado and it makes sense to offer it here on the Western Slope, in the heart of the wine industry. This program is offered through the Agriculture Department and has a lot of potential for collaboration between both the well-established Culinary Program and Sustainable Agriculture.

With 22 years of experience as winemaker at Plum Creek Winery, a pioneer of the Colorado wine industry, Baldwin-Eaton is uniquely qualified to teach her subjects: Fermentation Science, Fermented beverage, Winemaking and Vineyard Establishment & Management.

She earned her BS degree in Exercise Physiology with a chemistry minor at Chico State University in California. And throughout her twenty-two years has taken countless seminars and university classes specific to winemaking, along with judging several international wine competitions.

The program Baldwin-Eaton has inaugurated offers a two-year path to an Associate of Applied Science in Viticulture and Enology, as well as certificates in Viticulture, Enology, Wine Professional and Pre-Sommelier.

Encouraged by her experience this year. Baldwin-Eaton foresees the addition of a wine-making facility on campus to take instruction to the next level of hands-on involvement. Up until now, future winemakers and viticulturist had to bring their expertise with them to Colorado. Now, Western Colorado Community College is offering a way to learn a new career and for others in the industry, to increase their knowledge right in their own backyard. Baldwin-Eaton has a true pioneering spirit with the Colorado wine industry and reflects on her start in the industry, “I was fortunate to have a mentor at the beginning of my career and I hope to pay it forward by mentoring and getting other folks interested in the Colorado wine industry”.

Baldwin-Eaton lives with her husband and her dog, Merle in Palisade. She enjoys gardening, hiking and rafting.