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Amy Byers enjoys helping students realize their culinary potential as much as she enjoys baking away in the kitchen.
Byers is the culinary arts program director at Spartanburg Community College. She started at the college as an adjunct professor in 2010, and took over the department four years later. She works with students of all ages and culinary skill sets, hoping to pass along a love of cooking she caught during her time at Clemson University.
How did you get into cooking?
I was at Clemson studying to be a nurse and not doing so well. I was working at a restaurant there called Annie Oaks, and I loved waiting tables. The manager there said he thought I should go into culinary school.
What do you enjoy about cooking?
I enjoy baking a lot more. If you’re a baker, you’re not a cook, if you’re a cook, you’re not a baker. If you’re a cook, you can change things as you go, you have a little freedom. If you’re a baker, you have to follow a recipe. It’s more of a science, it’s more exact. You can’t just scoop a cup of flour and throw it in.
Did you see yourself working at a college?
Absolutely not, never in a million years.
Are you still enjoying it?
One hundred percent. I just had a student finish a final exam today, and two years ago, he was late or didn’t show up. He was just slack. And now, he’s doing awesome. He’s got a great job, and he’s doing great. It’s him, growing up, maturing. Being able to watch students mature and grow is so satisfying.
Do you have any nontraditional students?
I have a lady who’s 69, she raised her children and grandchildren, and her husband said it was her time. She doesn’t really care if she finished the program, but she’s just learning to cook since he always cooked.
What’s it like working with students of varying experience levels?
The best part of it is seeing a student that maybe didn’t want to bake and they learned how to bake, or they didn’t know how to do anything when they first came, then at the end when they do their capstone (final project) and see how far they’ve come, it’s fun to watch them grow,” she said. “That’s the really good part of this job.
What keeps you interested as a professor?
It allows me to work in the culinary world, but not work the bad hours. I have three children, so I can be home at night. When you’re cooking (professionally), you’re usually home pretty late. The hours are tough. It’s a hard life.
Do your students have an advantage being in Spartanburg?
The culinary industry is very small here in town, especially with those restaurants that are individually-owned. I get a lot of phone calls saying, ‘I’m looking for someone, if you know anybody.’ We do have good support with the hiring of students.
What are some pieces of advice you’d give to beginner cooks?
You’ve got to love this job. You need to take it seriously and be proud of being a cook. I would say, you know, just learning all they can. Work with as many different people as you can and learn as much as you can.
For home cooks not taking classes, do you have any advice for them?
Just try it. Read a recipe and go for it. Read the internet or read a cookbook. Watch YouTube videos because they can learn and watch how they make it. Don’t be afraid to try new things at restaurants, ask how it’s prepared. Most will tell you.
4 pound chuck roast, bone in
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup of oil
1 cup of flour
1 pound of carrots
2 pounds of potatoes
1 cup of celery
1 and 1/2 cups of beef broth
1/2 cup of red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons of corn starch
Season the chuck roast with salt and pepper in a heavy skillet. Dredge the roast in flour. Brown the meat on all sides and place into a crock pot or slow cooker on low temperature.
Add carrots, potatoes, celery and onions. Pour in the beef broth, red wine, tomato paste and add the rosemary and thyme.
Cook for eight hours.
Remove the roast and place the liquid in a sauce pot. Bring that pot to a simmer with the mushrooms. Add the cornstarch with cold water and pour into the simmering liquid.
Continue to cook until the liquid reduces by half.
Edamame Corn Salad
1 pound of shelled edamame
3 cups of corn
1 chopped red bell pepper
1 small chopped purple onion
2 chopped avocados
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Optional ingredients include chickpeas, black beans or black eyed peas
For the dressing:
2 squeezed limes
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
2/3 cups of oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of honey
Salt and pepper
Combine edamame, corn, red bell pepper, purple onion, avocados and cilantro in a bowl. Add any additional ingredients.
Combine dressing ingredients and whisk.
Pour desired amount of dressing over the salad and cover. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Add additional dressing if needed.
Chocolate Pound Cake
Unsalted butter to brush the Bundt pan
1/4 cup sugar to line the pan
2 cups of AP flour
1 cup and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 and 1/2 cups of butter
2 and 3/4 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 teaspoons of espresso extract
1 and 1/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush a 10-inch Bundt pan with the room-temperature unsalted butter. Pour 1/2 cup sugar into the pan, swirling the sugar in the pan so the chimney and sides are covered. Turn the pan upside down to remove any excess sugar and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beating at medium speed, add the eggs, one by one, beating only until they are well blended.
Beating on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture and a third of the buttermilk. Do this twice more with the remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula in between. Finally, beat the batter on medium speed for 30 seconds, until it is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top feels springy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then turn it out onto the wire rack to finish cooling.
To finish, dust the cake with cocoa or confectioners’ sugar.