ANGOLA – Todd Downs has gone back to school. And while he’s always up for learning, he’s really there to demonstrate the education he’s gleaned in 37 years of hands-on culinary know-how.
Welcome to Trine University in Angola, where chef Downs makes kitchen magic every day. He brings a world of experience – actually, worldwide experiences – to the multicultural university palate. And to walk-in diners.
The “freshman 15” here could quickly jump to 25, what with his cooking expertise. But then again, maybe students won’t gain weight in their first year away from home. Today’s college kids can be pretty savvy about their health. And if they aren’t, the chef is looking out for them.
All this from a rather unassuming but typical introduction to the culinary world – washing dishes so he could buy a car. Within six months he was cooking. That led to training in France when he was 21.
The studying in France turned out to be his only formal training; the rest has been on the job, “working with really good chefs.” In his varied career spanning close to four decades, he has also taught, and had a consulting business that took him around the world with commodity boards – for honey, cheese, raisins, potatoes, pork. Downs says the Trine dining hall offers “a lot of honey, a lot of cheese, a lot of raisins, … and we love pork.” He’s also done recipe development and writing, cooking demos, and food styling.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” he says. “And cooking’s an artistic endeavor.”
In addition to working in the dining hall, Downs also cooks for the university president and does high-end off-premise catering.
Trine has a large population of international students, so Downs continually adds international cuisine to the menu. “I try to source the most authentic ingredients I can to prepare the dish as close to its original version as I can,” he says.
“It’s a real compliment when the students take pictures of their food.”
The school is running a promotion called “Where’s Chef Todd?” A cardboard cut-out of him is hidden somewhere on campus and the first people to tweet his whereabouts get free food items.
The public is invited to dine in the school’s Whitney Commons in the Rick L. and Vicki L. James University Center. The schedule: Weekday breakfast is 7-9:30 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., dinner 5-7:30 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays there’s a brunch 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and dinner 5-6:30 p.m.
“Join us,” Downs says.
Trine University Whitney Commons
Rick L. and Vicki L. James University Center • Angola
(800) 347-4878 • Trine.edu/campus-life/dining/whitney-commons