Being in the kitchen was an often occurrence for Michele Sumner, a chef for College Chefs. Even at a young age, you could always find her in the kitchen learning family recipes that have been passed down. With creative cuisines and a little family flare, Chef Michele likes to serve the freshest foods to her residents at Pi Beta Phi.
Growing up, Michele got to learn her trade at an early age. Her father was a butcher and he taught her how to cut meat. Besides learning from her father, Michele remembers learning family recipes from her mother. A cook at a local grade school in Germantown, Illinois, and one of eleven family members, Michele’s mother taught her how to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. “I remember baking with my mom every Christmas,” she says. Still today, neighbors wait for their cinnamon rolls every year.
For Michele, cooking was just a hobby at first. She actually had no plans to go in to cooking or make it a career. Originally thinking her life was going in a different direction, Michele chose a career in the automotive industry. She would work on cars and she would bring in her baked goods with her to work. Reevaluating her career path, Michele decided to go back to school-- this time for cooking. She attended Illinois Central College and received her degree in culinary arts. From there she started working in local restaurants, one being One World Cafe in Peoria, Illinois. There she worked the prep kitchen and the kitchen line. It was shortly after One World Cafe, that Michele found herself cooking for a different crowd of people.
It’s All in Who You Know
One of Michele’s friends, Chef Steve Promenshenkle, worked for College Chefs in Bloomington, Illinois. When he heard of an opening for a chef in Peoria he quickly contacted Michele. “He knew my style of cooking,” she says as she talks about the job being the perfect fit. Michele started with College Chefs in 2012 and began the 2013-14 academic year with the ladies of Pi Beta Phi at Bradley University where she will return this Fall. Working for the sorority, Michele could not be happier. She enjoys being able to serve fresh foods and cuisines that she can make herself. “I do not like to cook with canned foods or frozen meals,” she says confidently. Cooking fresh foods, allows for Michele to cook new stuff and give the residents exactly what they are asking for. “I even make my pizza dough from scratch,” she says. Yet cooking fresh foods and being on a collegiate schedule, are not the best perks of all. Michele believes that the appreciation she receives is the best bonus. Although the other perks are great, she enjoys the girls’ expressions of excitement when she puts something out.
A Trained Staff
Michele believes that a key aspect to College Chefs’ success is that most of the staff that comes into these sororities and fraternities are chefs. Working around Bradley University, it is a small campus and you do not see people bringing in fresh foods. With College Chefs, chefs are bringing in fresh foods and cooking their meals from scratch. When it comes to these key components, College Chefs has the leg up on campuses, Michele suggests. For Michele, her success in the kitchen comes from an innovative menu in which her husband, also a chef, gives her ideas. “After getting the input back from the online surveys, my husband and I will sit down and he will give me some suggestions for the menus,” she says. She also finds that having a daughter helps a little when it comes to working with a bunch of girls. Another part of Michele’s success she credits to her instructor at Illinois Central College, Chef Charles Robinson. He was the head chef there and he taught her market cuisine classes.
Keeping it in the Family
When Michele is not cooking for College Chefs, she is still learning and cooking in her kitchen at home. Michele and her husband go to farmers markets and pick out fresh foods to make at home for the week. “We try to come up with new things to make,” she says. They also attend cooking demonstrations at the river front. It is safe to say that Michele is keeping her family tradition alive. Her daughter joins her in the kitchen and helps her cook. “She even has a little apron and chefs hat,” Michele adds.