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Easy Mac, Ramen noodles and PB & Js aren't on the menu for these culinary craftsmen.

While some students might find a microwave dinner satisfying, students working in local restaurant kitchens are putting their best dishes forward to benefit their professional and personal goals.

Senior restaurant management major Alex Lewine has already begun working hands-on within the kitchen setting. He now works almost every day, while also managing his course load and preparing to enroll in culinary school after graduation.

"Somewhere in the insanity, I find sanctity and sameness that balances out my stress levels somehow," Lewine said.

Lewine scored his current job as a line cook at KASA Tapas & Raw Bar downtown thanks to some good timing, but he is not new to cooking, both personally and professionally. His dad was a huge part of what got him interested in cooking initially.

Watching — and smelling — his father cook while Crosby, Stills and Nash played in the background pulled him into the kitchen, Lewine said.

Lewine cites his experiences preparing last meals for hospice patients as his first job cooking professionally. Now as a line cook, Lewine is involved with making salads and desserts, but he is considering specializing in one area.

"Cooking is all I know and I have an affinity for it," Lewine said. "I could be a lawyer or a counselor, but I believe I should be doing something that makes me happy."

Being a chef can be just a job, but for those interested in the career side of the industry, the Rosen College of Hospitality Management emphasizes student preparation for operation in food service.

Jason Fridrich, an instructor with Rosen who teaches a course on the techniques of food preparation for non-culinary students, differentiates Rosen from culinary schools by its focus on management and leadership.

"While some of our graduates may choose to pursue a career in a professional kitchen, most will choose to become management in their chosen concentration of study. We also have a very diverse global faculty that offers many years of hands-on experience and expertise to the students," Fridrich said.

While some students seek to make careers in the culinary industry, others see being a chef as a way to get by.

Antuane Richardson, a junior English language arts education major, describes the difficulty of working behind the scenes at his current job at Applebee's.

"[It's] definitely not a career for me," Richardson said. "The restaurant life is long hours and you have to be passionate about cooking like that to want to pursue a career."

Having started the job less than a year ago, Richardson said he worked his way up the ranks through promotions, but not without hard work and effort.

"You're in the back of the house and there's not as much space," he said. "If you're good at what you do, your workload becomes taking on more tasks and looking after those who are new."

Days off leave Richardson with time to do homework and prioritize his education, but even that may be pushed to the back burner since Richardson is determined to take care of his own expenses.

With afternoon schedules working long 10-hour shifts, Richardson may get home as late as 3:30 a.m. and said he finds it hard to get to sleep sometimes.

"Trying to wind my body down can sometimes be impossible," he said. "It can be exhausting depending on the occasion."

While he does not picture a career in the culinary field, the job experiences he has gained have been useful in opening up his eyes to future plans. Richardson is interested in making a difference in the lives of teenagers and spreading knowledge as a teacher.

"I'm working now so I can go home and be the difference. People who believe they can be the change move as a unit," Richardson said. "Middle and high school is the right time when adolescents are at the peak of trying to figure out who they are."

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