Local chef has a lot on his plate these days

Rob Scott knows his way around home and commercial kitchens, like this one at the former Olde Towne Restaurant in Hillsboro. In addition to managing Parkside Homes’ food service, Scott has been teaching several community cooking classes for the Hillsboro Recreation Commission and running a catering business on the side. Rob Scott has found his niche: sharing with others his skills, knowledge and love of preparing food.

“Just seeing people’s reactions with what I’ve made, it’s really rewarding, knowing something that I did brought joy to somebody else,” said Scott, director of dining services at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro.

In his full-time job, Scott manages Parkside’s food service department, overseeing menu planning and purchasing while others do the actual cooking.

“We have a really, really good team of cooks at Park­side,” he said. “They’re all excellent. I can honestly walk away from work and not worry a bit. You know, you have your mishaps occasionally. But as a whole, I’m blessed with a great team.”

Community classes

Scott has found ways to pass along his expertise to the community. Plans are in the works to offer another round of cooking classes through the Hills­boro Recreation Commis­sion.

Last year, he taught monthly classes from November through May at Hillsboro High School.

“We’re just waiting for the school to give us the dates so we’ll be able to do it there,” he said about the upcoming sessions. “We’re working on September, October and November, taking a break in December.”

Scott wants to offer a different variety of options this time.

“We’re tossing around the idea of doing a tailgate party type of class,” he said.

Scott’s first series of classes focused on preparing diverse cuisines, including Asian and Mediterranean.

“Last year was more of a trial to see how it would go,” he said. “It was, for the most part, successful.”

Ten to 30 people participated in the various sessions with some cuisines being more popular. He said he had to meet two nights to accommodate the number interested in Asian food.

People interested in signing up for Scott’s HRC classes can do that through the city’s website or office.

While working full-time at Parkside, Scott also takes classes part-time through Butler Community College’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts program in Wichita. He said he intends to finish his degree by 2018.

Scott said a lot of what he did with the Hillsboro Rec classes originated with what he was learning in his culinary classes.

“I would bring it back and teach it,” he said. “It helped me retain what I learned by teaching somebody else.”

Scott’s favorite cuisine is Mediterranean.

“It’s a lot of salads, citrus and mint, the way they infuse the flavors together,” he said.

Scott doesn’t use a lot of recipes when he cooks.

“A lot of what I do is throw in a little of this and a little of that until it tastes good,” he said.

For instance, take green bean soup.

“I’ve honestly never seen a recipe from here,” he said. “When I first started at Parkside, that was something people were saying they didn’t have there and were wanting. So I just asked people what goes in it, and came up with my own recipe of it, and it was a success.”

Catering on the side

Beside the community cooking classes, Scott finds time for his “hobby,” a catering business he began in January.

“It started out we would do a few caterings at Park­side for the Chamber of Commerce, hospital board meetings, things like that,” he said.

Once Scott made the decision to cater as a side job, he’s done church dinners and weddings.

“We went from an event that was 30 people to an event that was 350 people,” he said.

Most of the time family members have helped with Scott’s catering gigs.

“We do most everything buffet-style,” he said.

To cover costs and make efforts profitable, Scott has a 35-person minimum for catering events.

“I don’t think people realize how much goes into cooking,” he said about the menu planning, grocery shopping, prepping and transporting food and setting up the venue.

Scott’s menu list includes entrees such as holiday roasted turkey, garlic sauce chicken and peach-glazed pork loin, plus two sides. “But I want my events to be customized—anything I do is customer-driven,” he said.

“The goal is to have a shop behind our house; we’re in the process of getting that turned into a kitchen,” he said.

Scott said he knows it will take time to establish a catering business that would be his main focus.

“It’s something you have to build up,” he said. “But I dearly love my job at Park­side.”

An event on Scott’s catering calender is a German Buffet fundraiser for Park­side, which will be Aug. 26.

Career choice

Scott’s career choice has evolved over time. He grew up in Herington and went to high school there.

Initially drawn to marketing and advertising, Scott said his early work experience redirected his career trajectory as a chef.

“My first job was as a dish washer at a place called Barb’s Place,” he said. “It was a little restaurant in Herington. I did that from (ages) 15 to 16.”

Afterward, he worked in the local nursing home for about six years, starting as a dish washer and moving up to assistant manager.

“I worked my way up kind of the chain of command,” Scott said.

He’s found that listening to likes and dislikes of others is important when working in food service.

“I always tell the story that I remember the first meals I cooked, just listening. I didn’t know how to cook then. I was listening to the old ladies complain how awful the food was.

“So that’s where I kind of based my experience on learning to be comfortable with asking people how do I fix this? How would you do it?”

He gained more experience working three years in Council Grow as food service director at the assisted living facility.

“Eventually, I came over here,” Scott said. “I was living in Marion at the time. A position at Parkside was open. I applied for it. By that time I had about four or five years of management experience, so I got the job. And ever since then, I’ve just kind of excelled.”

He’ll mark his fifth year at Parkside in September.

“Parkside has honestly been a life changer for me,” Scott said.

There he met his wife, Alexis, and they now have a 19-month-old son, Kelton. He was also able to start culinary school while working at Parkside.

More classes

That Butler program includes classes on cooking techniques, particular cuisines, menu development, purchasing and budgeting.

Scott also has taken a Garde Manger class at Butler.

“It’s a cold food cookery,” he said. “It’s just a fancy French name for fixing cold things, smoking things. We learn how to make a lot of different sauces—ketchup, mustard—learn how to smoke and cure bacon, sausage things like that.”

Scott said he has one last cooking class to take: Northern Europe in spring.

“On the culinary side (of the program), they’re teaching people to work in restaurants,” he said. “On the hospitality side, it’s more on hotels.”

The BCC program also requires an internship, which Scott said he’d like to complete at a hotel that has a restaurant. He said he would need to complete 100 clock hours for the internship, which is an eight-week course.

While Scott said he knows he can’t please everyone with his cooking, he continues to find satisfaction and joy in trying.

“God has blessed me with the talent and being able to see it by other people’s responses is just truly amazing.”

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