Local resident earns induction into worldwide chefs’ group

Chef Jeff Albertson, a Huntington resident and chair of the hospitality administration program at the Fort Wayne campus of Ivy Tech Community College, is one of two Ivy Tech chefs to be inducted into Disciples Escoffier International USA.
Chef Jeff Albertson, a Huntington resident and chair of the hospitality administration program at the Fort Wayne campus of Ivy Tech Community College, is one of two Ivy Tech chefs to be inducted into Disciples Escoffier International USA. Photo provided.

Originally published June 26, 2017.

The name Georges Auguste Escoffier isn’t one that makes it into everyday conversation.

But everyone who eats owes a debt to Escoffier, says Jeff Albertson, one of the French chef’s newest disciples.

Albertson, a hometown chef who chairs the hospitality administration program at the Fort Wayne campus of Ivy Tech Community College, was one of two Ivy Tech chefs to be inducted into Disciples Escoffier International USA during a recent food tour in France and Germany.

The honor came as a surprise to Albertson and his fellow chef, Thomas England, coordinator of the culinary arts program at Ivy Tech’s downtown Indianapolis campus.

“In the middle of the trip, they took our group out and surprised us with the induction,” Albertson says.

Now, Albertson is one of about 35,000 members of the worldwide gastronomic society that’s dedicated to preserving Escoffier’s memory and encouraging young people to work as professional chefs.

“People don’t understand how important Escoffier was to food,” Albertson said, likening Escoffier’s position in culinary arts to that of Henry Ford in the automobile industry. “He totally revamped how restaurants ran.”

Escoffier simplified and modernized traditional French cooking methods and is known for codifying the recipes for the five “mother sauces.”

“He just kind of put everything in order,” Albertson says. “We still use the systems he put together.”

Albertson started learning those systems as a student in Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1989. Teachers Jean Gernand and Mary Margaret Kelsey drew him in.

“I took some classes at Huntington North and was inspired by them,” Albertson says. “I’ve been cooking ever since.”

After high school, he studied the culinary arts for a year at the Northwood Institute, in West Baden Springs, but says he’s mostly self-taught.

“After I took a year of college, I just continued educating myself,” he says.

He started out as a line cook at the former Marriott Hotel in Fort Wayne, then worked at Hilger’s, Sycamore Hills Golf Club and the former Summit Club until taking an adjunct teaching job at Ivy Tech in 2009. He’s also studied organizational management at Huntington University and earned a master’s in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Now, in addition to teaching and chairing his department, Albertson coordinates a series of dinners — prepared by students and open to the public — highlighting cuisines from around the world and through the ages. He’s also faculty advisor for Grasshopper, Ivy Tech’s student-run food truck, which debuted this month.

But, he says, he refrains from cooking for his family at home in Huntington.

“My 9-year-old likes to eat pickled octopus and squid, but the rest of the family is kind of picky,” he says. “They’re more into meat and potatoes.”

So they’ll probably never try some of the dishes Albertson picked up in France.

“We saw some really neat hors d’oueuvres,” he says, including figs stuffed with foie gras — the fattened liver of a duck or goose. “That was pretty cool to see a foie gras farm.”

Albertson spent two weeks in France, May 10 to May 24, with colleagues and a group of Ivy Tech students. The trip takes place every year, with the students using what they learn to put on a fall fund-raiser for the following year’s trip. Faculty members take turns going along.

They ate at restaurants in Germany and France, took a couple of classes in France, spent some time in Paris, stopped at vineyards and breweries and watched farmers make cheese at their farms.

“We just really concentrated on French cuisine and culture,” he says.