Sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an enthusiasm for cooking and baking unlike anything that Grossmont College Culinary Arts instructor Helen Coyne has ever seen.
Perhaps it is the simple act of cooking for loved ones during a time of anxiety and peril that is so appealing. Either as an expression of love or merely a way to occupy time, whipping up a home-cooked meal or baking a loaf of sourdough bread have never seemed so enticing.
During a recent meeting with division faculty, Javier Ayala, dean of Career and Technical Education, called upon Coyne to share some cooking tips and recipes. The instructor of the college’s home cooking essentials class happily obliged.
Coyne, a San Diego native, credits her mother for instilling a lifelong love for baking.
“At home, I was in charge of holiday baking since my mother always seemed to burn her baked goods,” said Coyne, who got her start in food services as an 18-year-old as a counter clerk at a Winchell’s Donut House. She worked her way up to baker and store manager, working 70-90 hours a week.
Then a mother of two small children, Coyne left for a less demanding server’s job at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Steakhouse on Friars Road, a position she held for a decade. Her next job as a server at Humphreys Restaurant coincided with learning to bake at Amy Malone’s School of Cake Decorating in La Mesa and a stint making wedding cakes.
“Then I attended the Culinary Arts Program here at Grossmont College and I absolutely loved it,” she said.
After finishing the program in 2003, she went on to train at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley. Returning to San Diego, she was hired back at Humphreys, where the recession led to her taking on dual positions as sous chef and pastry chef. Two decades running the kitchen at Humphreys led to her next cooking venture as the culinary program coordinator at the San Diego office of the global relief agency, International Rescue Committee.
A culinary job training program for refugee women proved a success, with the creation of a boutique catering business that employed many of the refugees.
In 2014, Coyne began teaching in Grossmont College’s Culinary Arts Program, leading classes in Soups & Stocks, Buffet & Catering, and Advanced Work Experience. She helped create the Home Cooking Essentials course in collaboration with department chair Chef James Foran and Katrina VanderWoude, then Vice President of Student Affairs. She calls this time a career highlight.
“I have taught every semester since then. I love it here,” she said. “It is such a gift to be able to take all my experiences in the industry and help students reach their goals. It is so important to me to continue to improve myself in order to give back to my students. We have all had to take on the challenge of remote culinary classes. I am so proud of our department and the work we are doing.”