Institutional roots lead to creative cuisine
Stories of personal achievement often include epiphanies born of dramatic life-changing events.
Rob Scott found his epiphany in a bad kettle of beef noodle soup.
Scott was a teen-ager working as a dietary aide at a Herington nursing home where his mother was a cook. He dropped out of high school to spend more time at work, but he wasn’t always focused on his duties.
“I always found myself drifting off to the nurses’ station to talk to the nurses,” Scott said. “Next thing you know, mom’s standing there saying, ‘Get back to the kitchen, let’s get to work.’ I learned a lot of my work ethic from her.”
However, she evidently didn’t teach him how to make beef noodle soup. It was one of the first dishes he was called upon to cook, and as Scott recalled, it was “terribly awful,” an opinion the residents shared.
“I remember listening to those little old ladies talking about how awful it was and how it wasn’t anything they’d ever make or eat,” he said.
That incident, coupled with standard nursing home fare that depended on prefabricated meals purchased from suppliers, shaped a philosophy that’s driven Scott’s culinary career ever since.
“People didn’t grow up on that, so we shouldn’t be trying to serve it to them,” he said. “My goal is to make the residents’ dining the best it can possibly be by making fresh homemade food.”
Scott said he encountered the same problem directing food service operations at facilities in Council Grove, Cottonwood Falls, and El Dorado. About five years ago, an opening at Parkside Homes gave Scott an opportunity to implement his philosophy.
“One of the hiring points for me was that they wanted me to switch the quality of food to serve more homelike, traditional ethnic food,” Scott said.
The chance to cook the way he wanted to was reason enough to take the job, and he soon found another: A young medical aide named Alexis Koop.
“I think I worked here for about a month and then we started talking, and the rest is history,” he said.
Scott and Koop married in 2013, and have a son, Kelton, who is about to turn 1 year old.
Directing a food service department with about 40 employees and being a family man kept Scott busy enough, but he still harbored a dream he’d held for years — going to culinary school. He said it was Alexis who encouraged him to pursue it.
“Quite realistically, I wouldn’t have gone back to school,” Scott said. “We had heard about the culinary program in Wichita, and she’s the one who pushed me into it.”
Butler Community College operates the culinary school Scott attends. He completed his general education courses at Butler’s Marion center, then last year took his first full year of culinary classes.
“I had gone into it thinking I wouldn’t learn too much because I’ve been doing culinary work for a few years now,” Scott said. “I can honestly tell you I learn something new every single day I go to school.”
Scott is now putting his training to use in a different venue by signing on to teach a series of cooking classes for Hillsboro Rec.
“We’re going into our third one,” Scott said. “Our first class we had about 13 people, our second class we had about 17 people.”
The third class, focused on Asian-influenced cuisine, is actually two classes. The first session filled so quickly a second session was added, with about 27 total enrollees, Scott said.
Stepping into a teaching role wasn’t easy for Scott.
“I went into that thinking, ‘I’m going to hate this,’ I really did,” he said. “Going into a group of people and public speaking have never been my strong points. I didn’t even want to get up on the stage at my wedding.”
Scott said he selects recipes that aren’t found at local restaurants, and most supplies are purchased through local merchants. However, he adds his own touch to what he’s teaching.
“I have my own style of cooking,” he said. “I can’t explain it, but if I think it’s going to be good that way, that’s how I’m going to teach it.”
The classes combine demonstration and hands-on cooking, and Scott said he enjoys the positive feedback he has received.
“Part of it is just seeing the reactions to something I did,” he said. “It’s just a cool feeling to make something and see someone’s reaction. Some of them will take pictures of what they make in class, then they’ll go home and try to make it and they’ll send pictures to me.”
Scott said additional classes have been scheduled through May, and that he hopes to offer more throughout the year.