We sat down with Ben Stinson, executive chef at EVCC, to learn more about his journey with EVCC and why cooking is a passion he’s excited to share.
Can you talk about your history with EVCC?
I started at EVCC 8 years ago as a restaurant cook. I learned a.m./p.m. line, banquets and trophy room within my first couple of years, which helped my growth as a cook and overall knowledge of the in’s and out’s of the kitchen. In my 3rd year, I was promoted to kitchen manager, which had me overseeing some of the operations of the a.m./p.m. restaurant line and trophy room. Two years later, I was promoted to a co-executive chef role, where my responsibilities were overseeing all ala carte food service operations at EVCC. After two years in this position, I was promoted to the Executive chef of EVCC.
What is your education related to cooking?
My education comes from hands on learning, as I did not receive any formal education in the culinary arts. I began absorbing as much information about cooking techniques, styles and cuisines as I could while in high school. I took an internship course while in high school that allowed me to work at Noto’s Italian Restaurant and from there, I’ve only worked in kitchens.
What do you enjoy most about the work?
I really enjoy leading a team. I get excited when all odds are stacked against my staff and I, and we somehow pull it off! I enjoy teaching what I’ve learned along the way to other people and learning from them in turn. I cherish the relationships I’ve built with local farmers and being able to trace the majority of the dishes we cook at the club to a single source. It’s exciting to support farms like Ada Beef and Good as Gold Eggs—both of which are super local (less than 10 combined miles from the club,) and are both led by up and coming young female farmers!
Who would you say is your cooking mentor?
As far as a cooking mentor, I would have to say that I don’t really have one. But, I’ve learned from a lot of different people along the way—both how to do things right and what not to do. I’ve tried to absorb what I can from each chef I’ve worked for and have attempted to apply that knowledge in my own way.
When you’re not at EVCC, what do you enjoy doing with your time?
I enjoy being outside as much as possible—working in my yard and my vegetable garden. I also like to camp when I’m able to get away for a weekend! Playing music is something I really love to do and I try to attend one folk music festival every year. I have played various stringed instruments since I was 12, so that has been a big part of my life for a long time. Two of my most favorite things are food and music—if I didn’t cook for a living, the only other thing I could think of doing would be something involving music.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
I love to cook vegetables when they are in season. I get really excited to cook fresh produce that either came from my garden or local farm stand. I like to keep dishes simple, especially when the product is super fresh. For example, a salad of sliced heirloom tomato and cucumber with shaved onion, basil and pea shoots, dressed with oil, vinegar, sea salt and cracked pepper. It’s kind of like a dish I remember my dad making in the summer, and all of the ingredients were either from my back yard, Full Hollow Farm in Belding, or Pierson’s Orchard Market in Ionia.
What would you say was the best meal you’ve cooked and who did you cook it for?
That’s hard to say! As far as professional cooking, I’m very proud of the wine dinners that we put out. It gives us time to flex our creative muscles. Honestly though, I think home cooking is always best. To me, there seems to be more soul involved when cooking for family, and the food just seems to taste better. So I would have to wager that the “best” meal I’ve ever cooked would’ve been something I made at home for family.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
For some reason, people always say I’m initially intimidating to them. Maybe its because I’m tall, or big, or loud, I don’t know. So, I would have to say that the thing most people don’t know about me is that I’m not scary! For the most part, I’m a pretty calm person once you get to know me.