By reaching out, Chef Jeff Igel is generously giving back
Chef Jeff Igel
Fox Valley Technical College
Program Director of Culinary Outreach
Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management
Chef Jeff Igel has been a fixture at Fox Valley Technical College for 20 years. In 1996, he was hired as Department Chair for the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Department. Two years ago, he became the department’s Program Director of Culinary Outreach. Although his title has changed, his objectives have not.
To Igel, philanthropy is of utmost importance and the results of his efforts speak for themselves. During his time at FVTC, he has helped add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the college’s Culinary Arts Endowment Fund and has positioned the program as one of the finest in the state.
When Igel is not in a classroom teaching, he is out in the community concentrating on culinary outreach. “It’s all about networking,” he explains. “What makes the program successful is networking within the industry.” Igel knows that it’s all of the external partners that make FVTC as well positioned as it is. “We’re so connected to the industry that we represent,” he says.
A demanding schedule is par for the course for Igel, but he doesn’t like to call himself a workaholic. To him, when you’re passionate about your career, immersing yourself just comes with the territory. “Sometimes you look at your schedule and think, ‘I’m so busy,’” says Igel. “But then you stop for a second and think about how fortunate you are and the things you get to participate in, the fundraisers you get to help with. That’s pretty cool.”
Of all the projects and undertakings he’s been a part of, there are a few of which he is especially proud. He is founder of Chefs Gone Grillin’, a mobile grilling food lab that, as Igel says, has two parts to it. First, it’s a public relations initiative. “We participate with businesses across the community and do PR grilling events for them,” he explains. Whether it’s customer appreciation or a grand opening, Igel and his team fire up their grill for about 12-15 events a year.
“The other component is our BBQ competition team, established in 2009,” Igel adds. The team, consisting of Chef Igel and some of his graduates compete out on the BBQ circuit several times a year. Over the years the team has amassed many medals, ribbons and thousands of dollars in prize money in addition to building relationships across the region.
Igel also raises money each year for the endowment through a golf outing. “We average at least $10,000 per year, so we’re probably in that $175,000 range,” he says. Other fundraisers he has orchestrated include a Chefs Gone Grillin’ line of spices and he has written three cookbooks with 100 percent of proceeds going directly to the endowment — to date, that amount is over $20,000. “Not a nickel is gathered for anybody else,” he adds.
To see the fruits of his fundraising labors, look no further than the state-of-the-art, Jones Dairy Farm Culinary Theatre, for which he was a catalyst. The theatre is a high-tech kitchen with 126 seats arranged in semi-circle tiers to give students a clear view of live cooking demonstrations. It is also equipped with digital cameras and large screens to provide close-ups and technology to record and broadcast presentations.
The project started out as a remodel to FVTC’s existing facility, but plans quickly changed. “The fundraising was amazingly successful, so the college said, ‘If you can hit this number, we’ll build,’” says Igel. “We hit the target, so we built in 2012.” The theatre is the only one of its kind in Wisconsin. “It is a phenomenal teaching facility,” boasts Igel.
Even after 33 years spent in the industry, Igel doesn’t see himself ever completely retiring. “If I ever stop teaching full time I would still work in some capacity with cooking demonstrations, cookbook writing and public speaking,” he says. “There’s no way I could sit around and watch The Price Is Right all day.”
For the time being, Igel wants to continue to take in his favorite moments in the classroom. They are what he refers to as, “the a-ha moments, when you see the light go on.” As their instructor, Igel strives to take his students “from whatever level they come in to the highest potential you can,” he explains. “The students are excited to be in this profession, and our job is to add to it and channel it so that they can make a good living.”
His impact on his students’ futures isn’t lost on Igel. “It is such a pinnacle of one’s career to be able to help influence the next generation of your profession,” he concludes. “I’ve always felt very blessed to be in this role, and I want to give it everything I’ve got.”