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Around the World and Back Again - The KVCC Culinary Adventures of TyQuan Mills

TyQuan Mills | KzooConnect

"Cooking has always been a way of life for me," begins TyQuan Mills, a student of the KVCC Culinary Arts program. "My grandfather cooked. My grandmother and great-grandmother always cooked, not professionally but I learned a lot from them."

Mills grew-up one of seven children, raised by a hard-working, single mother in Kalamazoo. He attended Washington Writer's Academy and Millwood Magnet School, then graduated from Portage Northern High School. So what was next for Mills was serendipitous.

"I went to a Chef's Table at Zazio's restaurant with Chef John Korycki and at one point in conversation he said to me, 'We have a new culinary program opening up.' So I applied, got in, and here we are."

Through the Culinary Arts program Mills has had a chance to explore the many different sides of the industry, in particular he reflects fondly on his Crop Practicum class. This class is done in the 17,000 square foot Food Innovation Center on the KVCC downtown campus. The students use the produce grown there for use in the two student-run restaurants.

Mills explained how the class would actually, " in the daytime. And then, at night we got to cook with those crops that we had just farmed."

Two of the resident restaurants used for student learning are the Havirmill Cafeé, a restaurant that serves lite breakfast items and lunch. This is part of the 'Menus That Matter' Culinary Arts & Sustainable Food Systems program. The other, Restaurant 418, is open evenings Monday-Thursday 6-7:30 pm. The menu is prepared by chefs in training using local farm foods including the urban campus farm food raised at the Food Innovation Center.

In addition to teaching the students the importance of farming, the Food Innovation Center also allows the program to give back to the Kalamazoo Community, with more than 1000 pounds of food grown there being donated to Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes and Ministry with Community.

The culinary school opened up all kinds of opportunities for Mills including a required internship. Rather than see this simply as a program requirement, Mills saw an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.

"John (Korycki) has been to Italy 13 times. It was really a goal of mine to get there in my life. I wanted to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to get out of the country. So I got on a plane and went to Italy."

His internship was done in Parma, Italy which was followed by a job opportunity in Tuscany. His experiences in Italy have further motivated Mills to return to Kalamazoo and finish his last year of culinary school.

The internship experience has proved to sharpen Mills' interest in the local food movement. He spoke excitedly about the gardens in the back of the restaurants that he visited there and is happy to see the growth of the food movement in Kalamazoo. Currently he is taking a class that will enable him to go to different farms to see how local farms operate.

He comments, "The local food movement is spreading fast around Kalamazoo. And now the culinary school is bringing in people from all around who understand that movement and will continue to add to it."

Mills raves about the culinary program and about KVCC. "The people are so phenomenal. They are the most humble individuals: The (former) president Marilyn Schlack, Stephen Doherty, Mike Collins. They are always asking, 'What do you need?' It is incredible, the amount of support that you have. I feel at home."

Mills' experiences overseas have further deepened his appreciation for Kalamazoo. "Things are different than they are here. A big family is how I think of a community, and that is what Kalamazoo provides."

We cannot wait to see what Mills, and his fellow graduates from the program, will add to the Kalamazoo food scene!

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