POTSDAM-- John VanKennen, Potsdam, recently joined Potsdam Auxiliary College and Educational Services as the new chef at SUNY Potsdam's Lehman Dining Center.
VanKennen is a North Country native, born and raised in the Potsdam area. He attended Norwood-Norfolk High School, and got his start working in the former George's Bakery, Potsdam, as a student.
After graduation, VanKennen moved to Massachusetts, where he pursued a career in restaurant trade, seeking out chefs "who could teach and make great food." His journey involved working for upscale restaurants, country clubs and gourmet catering businesses.
VanKennen returned to the North Country after seven years, with a passion to serve great food with the freshest ingredients. He worked at Violi's Restaurant in Massena as a head chef, before moving to Clarkson University, where he was most recently a chef and production manager for dining services there, which are run by the Aramark Corporation.
The new chef's focus for Lehman is to make the best food possible using fresh ingredients, in keeping with PACES' mission to buy local whenever possible.
"Fresh ingredients are what really turn a good dish into a great dish. We cut the peppers, onions and vegetables here every day now, so we are working toward another level of quality and a more distinct flavor," VanKennen said.
On a recent Thursday night, for example, he served a homemade fried chicken dish, which had been soaked -- in true Southern style -- for eight hours in buttermilk, then double-breaded and quickly fried. That way, "the chicken stays moist and flavorful, but doesn't absorb excess fats and oils," VanKennen said.
VanKennen continues to work on the menu, bringing gluten- and dairy-free dishes to the action station "Sante," located by "Sesame Pan Asian" in the corner of the dining hall. In addition to a revised menu, Lehman underwent a physical facelift, which was completed early this year.
A new skylight was installed, which brought natural light into the stairwells and center of the hall. In addition, seating was updated. There is now a pair of soft couches with a coffee table and some rocking chairs by the fireplace, and high top tables in the main dining room.
Students enjoying sitting by the fire, drinking coffee, and chatting, while surfing the web. With a new chef and a fresh look, SUNY Potsdam's Lehman Dining Center is more comfortable than ever.
Lehman is PACES' all-you-care-to-eat facility, open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as offering brunch and dinner on the weekends.