Colleen Nanno: Culinary Arts From a Distance

Pam Sornson, JD

Online teaching was never part of Colleen Nanno’s plan. A life-long chef and cook, she’s spent her culinary career in professional and educational kitchens and had just recently engaged those skills to refurbish the defunct Culinary Arts program at Pasadena City College. Only one term in, she was dismayed in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic closed the PCC campus as well as her cafeteria-based teaching facility. While it took her a minute to get her bearings, she did what any cook worth their salt would do: she found the ingredients and recipe she needed to create an informative, enticing, and ‘tasty’ online culinary course curriculum.



Life-long Learning Leads her Way

Nanno attributes much of her success to the people who’ve provided influence and support to her career. Her family owned restaurants in the Pasadena area, so she grew up in a professional kitchen. That childhood laid the foundation for her on-going training at the Culinary Institute of America, through her internship in London, and into her subsequent career in the kitchens of numerous hotels and restaurants. She’s spent the past ten years teaching culinary arts at various California schools and was invited to bring the PCC culinary arts program back to life in Fall 2019.

At PCC, she’s found a fabulous partner in Dr. Mark Keene, the Director of the school’s Hospitality Management program. With his training, her students gain exposure to the business and ‘front-of-house’ sides of the professional culinary experience.

She drew on both her history and her partner as she refocused her curriculum to address the new COVID-19 driven teaching adventure.


Same Menu; Different Method

The school term was three weeks in when the pandemic hit, so Nanno had already established a good rapport with her students. Now that they were at home and attending school remotely, she was determined to maintain their engagement and education in this new configuration. While weekly Zoom meetings with the class as a whole maintained visual continuity, she needed to provide as closely as possible the hands-on learning that a culinary class requires.

Nanno’s first thought was to present cooking techniques and theories in online classes, then let the students practice those lessons at home. This approach was hit-and-miss, however, as students struggled to find the ingredients they needed and were missing the attention to detail they got while with Nanno in the kitchen (a ‘slow’ oven can create significant problems for a novice cook).

Instead, with the help of her assistant and husband, she launched her video career as she took to the camera to demonstrate her skills. The home-based project required significant negotiation skills, though – not with her husband, but with her two-year-old son. Once they had that sorted out, she turned her attention to actually teaching via video.

At first, she was all about the cooking, but video reviews indicated that she needed to devote equal time to the pre- and post-video preparations.

Proper lighting and sound capabilities were needed to ensure that the process (and the instructor) were accurately captured in the digital format.

Transitions from image to image are significant, too, especially since the final dish’s success is ultimately the result of an accurate progression from the beginning to the end of the preparation process.

And editing the raw footage into the final upload was creating a visual library for her current and future students, so each one had to be as pristine and perfect as possible.


Same Dish Reimagined

Looking back on that semester, Nanno is very enthused about what she was able to teach her students and about how she was able to grow as their teacher.

The video work allowed her to ‘preview’ her classes and coursework so she could edit/revise before publishing it.

Her students report that visual interaction was a big part of their continuing engagement in the class. Despite the distance created by the remote connection, they could still experience the feelings they have with Nanno and that she has with them.

Her ESL students were especially happy with the videos. The format allowed them to catch the action with closed-captioned support, and translators were available through a dedicated translation website.

Not insignificantly, Nanno now has the beginning of what will certainly be an extensive library of teaching resources that will prove invaluable in the years to come.


Developing a New Menu for the Future

Looking forward, Nanno plans to expand her new-found video capacities while also building the reputation of PCC as the premier Hospitality program in LA. Chef Nanno and Dr. Keene dream of expanding the kitchen capacity into a state-of-the-art building with five to eight kitchens, a cafe, a bakery, and any other culinary service that fits in. The plan is to populate LA and global restaurants with talented cooks and bakers, and find local taverns and eateries that will provide on-the-job training and internships for the students.

Alongside Dr. Keene, she wants to develop PCC into a world-class magnet for top culinary and hospitality talent. Since he’s new, too (they both started in Fall 2019), they both have a lot of new ideas to offer and exciting plans to make. With Dr. Keene at her side, Colleen Nanno has only just begun rebuilding the future of Culinary Arts at Pasadena City College.



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