Garretts’ new head chef brings a taste of youth to restaurant.
From an early age, Derek Anders knew he wanted to cook.
Appointed this year as head cooking instructor at Garrett’s, Washtenaw Community College’s fine dining restaurant run by its Culinary Arts program, the 27-year-old still remembers gazing at television screens at age 12, transfixed by the culinary wizards on display.
“I was watching a lot of Food Network back then,” Anders said. “Chefs were actually gaining notoriety. It’s attracted a lot of people to culinary arts. That (age 12) was when I decided it was what I wanted to do.”
Ambitious to educate the general public on food preparation and selection, Anders began his culinary studies at WCC in 2000. It was instructor Carol Deinzer who first allowed Anders, then only 15 to sit in for one of her classes.
Deinzer was immediately impressed with Anders’ passion and intellect.
“He was excellent; he just had a tremendous recall,” Deinzer said. “He learns fast, is hard-working. He just kept coming back.”
Deinzer looks forward to her former student’s modern approach to the fine dining and the Garrett’s menu. Now open to the public in the Student Center, Garrett’s new menu boasts several international themes to be cycled throughout the school year.
“He’ll bring youth, new ideas,” Deinzer said. “He just has a whole lot more contemporary ideas and is fresh from his training and very, very passionate.
Anders has worked alongside fellow Culinary Arts instructor, Alice Boss in developing the new menu. Hoping to provide guests with a variety of dishes from around the world, the duo has also focused on supplying locally grown ingredients and educating students on food sustainability.
“We would always talk about local, fresh foods and making things from scratch,” Boss said. “We’re really looking to make the best possible product. We’re food nerds.”
After graduating from Huron High School while dual enrolled at WCC, Anders moved on to Johnson and Wales School of Culinary Arts in Rhode Island in 2004. After completing his bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts at JW, Anders was offered a part-time teaching position at WCC.
“It (teaching) gave me an opportunity to learn, teach and bring my knowledge of the industry to the students,” Anders said. “I’m not a natural teacher, but I have a knack for learning.”
Responding to a job posting for head chef instructor in the spring of 2012, Anders felt it was the right time in his career as a chef to begin contributing to the future of culinary arts.
“I’m young, and I know that there are other things to accomplish in life,” Anders said. “But it was a good time to start giving back what I knew. That has always been very important to me.”
Commencing the year with traditional French service and menu options, Anders has endeavored, according to Boss, to return culinary arts to its roots.
“French cuisine is where it started,” Boss said. “Derek is really getting back to the tradition basics of the culinary focus and France is the epicenter of all we now know as traditional dining.”
According to Boss, she and Anders are hoping to start a school club on sustainable food. They have scheduled a special sustainable dinner and a movie in Garrett’s, open to the public on Oct. 19.
“I want to bring a more natural approach to food, a little more local and seasonal.” Anders said. “I know that’s a big topic in Ann Arbor, but Michigan as a whole has a very diverse agriculture. We can be diverse in our ingredients without going outside of Michigan.”
Aside from his ambitions for sustainability and localized ingredients, at the end of the day Anders’ deepest goal is to simply provide his community with quality meals and educate them on what goes into their food.
“The more we learn,” he said, “the more likely we are to eat the best possible food on the planet. I really believe I am only as good as my last meal.”