The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation has awarded the Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair to Ted Polfelt, an award-winning local chef and instructor in the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program.
The Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair is intended to honor an outstanding Virginia Western instructor who advances the understanding of business management principles in his or her coursework, regardless of academic discipline. The honored teacher may use the funds to enhance the quality of his or her curriculum, facilities or instruction in any way he or she deems necessary.
Polfelt plans to host a culinary competition and educational seminar at Virginia Western that will give students the opportunity to compete in a professional-level “culinary salon” without the cost of travel. The competition would be open to students and culinary professionals alike, and draw on judges sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
The endowed chair is named for the late Don Smith, who led Roanoke Electric Steel and was a Director Emeriti of the Educational Foundation. Steel Dynamics Inc., formerly Roanoke Electric Steel, established the endowed chair in 2006 with a $100,000 gift to honor Smith’s longtime leadership. Smith was president of Roanoke Steel from 1985 to 2004 and worked for the company 49 years.
Polfelt said instructors in the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program “literally apply business management principles into everything we do. We talk about utilizing every piece of animal or vegetable to maximize profits, as well as how to maintain your professional appearance to separate yourself in the job market.”
Acquiring business management skills early in a hospitality industry career is critical, Polfelt said. Too often, talented culinary students don’t understand the importance of maintaining core costs such as labor, food and rental. He offers, as an example, the idea of opening a coffee shop. “It sounds like a great business plan: Cheap to produce, low labor costs and great cost margins. But how many cups do you have to sell to cover your $2,000 lease and the rest of the expenditures?
“I like seeing the ‘A-ha’ moment in our students, when the picture of entrepreneurship becomes a little bit clearer,” he said.
The Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program is housed in newly expanded space at the Claude Moore Educational Complex, which is part of the Roanoke Higher Education Center in the historic Gainsboro neighborhood. The program currently enrolls 308 students who are pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree. Polfelt has been an instructor in the program since 2012.
“Ted’s project proposal is a creative and interactive way to marry our student’s culinary college tutelage with real-world experience and skills,” said Yvonne Campbell, Dean of Virginia Western’s School of Business, Technology & Trades. “He has smartly structured the project event agenda so that the experience increases student exposure to business principles employed in culinary arts at a level experienced by few.
“Seeing firsthand practical application of entrepreneurship by talented, dedicated experts is an important career and life lesson, and, honestly, can be life-changing for many of our students.”
Polfelt’s endowed chair appointment spans the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. He is the third recipient of the Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair, following Alexander Scott, an associate professor of Spanish, and Cristin Barrett, an assistant professor of mathematics.
Polfelt previously was named the 2016 ACF Southeast Region Chef of the Year and was a semi-finalist for National Chef of the Year. He has also won more than 20 medals competing in ACF-sanctioned competitions across the country. He is currently the Vice President of the Southwest Virginia Chapter and is the Chair of the National Certification Commissions Appeals Sub-Committee. He also serves as Corporate Chef for Jefferson Street Management Group.