Nathan Camburn: Finding all the Right Ingredients

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The hair is starting to grow back on the arms of Nathan Camburn, but who knows when he’ll regain feeling in his seared fingertips.

You might say he got a little too close to the flames, but that’s the way his life has gone over the last few months at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute (PCI).

The 1999 Morenci graduate was home for a one-week break last month on his way to Colorado to begin what his school calls an externship program. By now, his lower arms be naked once again.

Camburn is working his way through the PCI program on the way to his goaling of becoming a master chef.

His career choice shouldn’t come as a great surprise. He thought about it in high school, after working as a dishwasher in Cousin-Os in Morenci and later as a cook with his mother’s Bulldog Café. After high school he worked in a Garfield’s, but then drifted off into other things.

One day it just clicked. He knew he wanted to get serious about working as a chef and he made the move.

His mother recalls earlier hints. Maybe not the time he tried to fry an egg in a plastic bowl at age four, but other forays into the kitchen.

“He’s made some creations over the years,” Suzanne said, “that most people weren’t brave enough to try. He would eat anything put before him, but he always tried to improve it. I guess we should have known then.”

Classroom

The 12-month program at PCI puts students through the mill nine hours a day, five days a week for a year, before the four-month work experience begins.

PCI is considered one of the top five culinary schools in the nation. Signing up for the program is a big commitment; tuition runs about $42,000 for the year. It’s a grueling endeavor. Thirty-five students started in Camburn’s cycle at the institute. Before too many weeks passed, the number had shrunk to 16.

Six classes cover the core knowledge for the chef:

• an introductory class that includes basic food preparation, equipment, knife skills, salads, sandwiches, organization and presentation;

• Soup, Stock, Sauce and Starch Production, covering broths, glazes and soups, and the preparation of potatoes, grains and pasta;

• Meat, Game and Poultry, addressing identification, storage, butchery, quality assessment and cooking techniques;

• Seafood and Charcuterie, including meat trimmings, curing, smoking, patés and sausage making;

• Baking and Pastry, including advanced skills in presentation and decorating. Camburn figures he gained a good 15 pounds from that class. He has fond memories of the Bavarian cream. “You could just feel yourself gaining weight.”

• Advanced Classical Cuisine. “This ties everything together,” Camburn said.

After that, there are various electives such as international cooking, French pastry, advanced pastry sculpturing, sanitation, wines and spirits, food management, menu planning and more.

Classroom and kitchen experience lead up to the practicals, where the skills are put into practice.

“It’s a test where you actually make things—perfectly,” he said.

As experience grows over the months, the chefs-in-training hone their taste buds, too, much as they do their kitchen knives.

“You build up your palette to know how a duck sauce is supposed to taste,” Camburn said, “you know how a brown sauce is supposed to taste.”

Heading out

PCI schedules a job fair to help students line up a good externship program. Nathan went for one of the best: the Broadmoor at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs. Dozens of candidates were interviewed and only 20 were chosen.

Nathan said the resort includes 11 five-star restaurants offering a wide range of opportunities for learning. Baking, banquet, line cook, pastry—he’ll be able to work his way up to sous chef.

“I hope to able to move from one restaurant to another to try the different cuisines,” he said. “I’ll work beneath a master chef who is certified in a particular cuisine. I hope to stay there a couple of years. To have the Broadmoor on your résumé is the best thing.”

Nathan has a standing offer to buy a restaurant back in Pittsburgh, but that’s probably not the direction he’ll choose. He thinks he’s gained a good overview of the business at PCI, and now he’s going for the practical experience at the Broadmoor. It’s a wide open future.

“They open the doors for you,” he said. “It’s up to you to take the initiative. I plan to open my own restaurant some day. Hopefully, it’s on the side of a mountain in Colorado.”

 

-October 15, 2003 
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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