By Aaron Mudd – Bowling Green Daily News
Photo by Bac Totrong - BG Daily News
When chef Michael Riggs works in the kitchen, he believes the best thing he can do is bring people around a table to share and enjoy one another’s lives along with his food.
“When you break bread with people, you share a common bond. I wish we could get back to more of that,” said Riggs, a culinary arts program coordinator at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.
For at least a dozen years, Riggs has mentored children on the basics of cooking through SKYCTC’s Chef Camp. The four-day camp teaches 8- to 12-year-olds to cook homemade spaghetti and meatballs, cookies and other basic dishes.
“It’s sold out every year we’ve had it,” Riggs said before posing for a class picture with about 50 students.
This year’s camp is special for Riggs because it’s his last before he retires after 18 years with SKYCTC.
When he first arrived at the college, its administrators were looking to create a professional culinary arts program focusing on restaurant cooking and catering.
SKYCTC became the first technical college in Kentucky to offer an associate degree in culinary arts. Since then, Riggs said, five SKYCTC students have been named culinary arts student of the year by the Kentucky Restaurant Association.
Riggs said he has enjoyed helping students launch careers in the catering industry, restaurant management and as dietitians.
He’s also proud of the program’s contributions to charity events throughout the years, including Empty Bowls, Hospice of Southern Kentucky’s Chocolate Festival and Hope House’s Cooking for Hope event.
“He started this program, basically,” said Sandy Combs, who has taken classes in SKYCTC’s culinary arts program and was the Kentucky Restaurant Association’s culinary arts student of the year in 2016.
“He’s very passionate about what he’s teaching and what he wants students to learn,” Combs said.
Riggs tells students to go the extra mile when it comes to teaching others. “He’s always telling us, ‘Don’t be ordinary,’ ” Combs said.
Riggs began working as a bartender and cook in college. His career has allowed him the opportunities to go places and do things he otherwise couldn’t have done.
When the U.S. Navy ran an Adopt-A-Chef program, Riggs visited naval galleys and offered cooking tips to sailors. Riggs said chow time is sometimes the best part of a soldier’s day.
For the Kentucky Derby in May, Riggs spent a week cooking with eight students for 400,000 people.
When it comes to learning to cook, Riggs stresses patience, reading recipes carefully and only getting creative and trying new things after mastering the basics.
“If it’s good you take credit for it,” he joked.
Chef Camp student Kameron Keen, 11, said the camp helped teach him the importance of food sanitation and safety. “I get a real sense of cooking is important,” he said.
Kameron enjoys cooking for others and seeing their reactions. His favorite meal to prepare is a chicken soup that takes five hours to make and comes from his great-great-great-grandmother’s recipe.
As Riggs steps into his next chapter, he’ll be doing more training and consulting, including teaching recreational cooking classes hosted by local restaurants.
“It’s been fun,” Riggs said of his career at SKYCTC, adding it’s “nice to help build something and see it be successful.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.