CUTLINE: Left to right: New Mexico Beef Council Executive Director Dina Chacón-Reitzel, center, stands with center-of-the-plate specialists Tom Bertelle, left, and Daniel Chavez. The New Mexico Beef Council has formed a new partnership with New Mexico State University’s School of Hotel, Tourism and Restaurant Management to bring beef experts into NMSU classrooms to teach students about beef from the industry perspective. (Photo by Kathryn Petty)
The New Mexico Beef Council is bringing the beef – literally – to NMSU’s School of Hotel, Tourism and Restaurant Management.
The promotion, education and research arm of New Mexico’s cattle producers has formed a new partnership with the HRTM program to bring beef experts into NMSU classrooms to teach students about beef from the industry perspective.
The council’s executive director, Dina Chacón-Reitzel, said the collaboration aims to prepare HRTM students to enter the hospitality workforce with a broad understanding of New Mexico’s beef industry, sustainable beef production, beef merchandising and beef nutrition.
“More than half of all beef products produced in the U.S. are sold through food service, and these students are our future food service professionals who will be marketing and preparing beef,” said Chacón-Reitzel, who also serves on the NMSU Board of Regents. “Our new partnership is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about the products that they’re going to be handling in a professional environment.”
HRTM Director Jean Hertzman said the council has engaged with more than 120 students this year between the spring and fall semesters, providing in-person lectures and presentations and hands-on beef fabrication demonstrations to HRTM classes.
Chacón-Reitzel said the council provides each student with beef resources, including manuals and buying guides that are used in the food service industry. Two beef specialists with more than 100 years of combined industry experience lead each lecture, presentation and demonstration, which include tastings.
“I have our center-of-the-plate specialists come in and fabricate primals and subprimals, so students can understand where the different beef cuts come from,” she said. “After that, they get to cook and taste the different types and grades of beef and decide for themselves what they prefer.”
Hertzman said the collaboration enhances courses like HRTM’s Quality Food Production and Service Fundamentals, which offers an overview of beef production in a lab setting, while connecting students to professionals with extensive industry knowledge.
Students in HRTM’s Restaurant Operations Management course put into practice what they’ve learned from the beef specialists by developing menus featuring New Mexico beef for 100 West Café and HRTM’s dinner events, Hertzman added.
Chacón-Reitzel said the beef specialists field many questions from students who haven’t had much direct experience with beef production.
“Some of these students don’t come from ranch backgrounds and don’t understand the production side of it, so we tweaked our class to include some additional videos that explain the supply chain,” she said. “They’re also very interested to learn all they can about production practices.”
The partnership has also filled a void in the temporary absence of the meat lab that was once part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Chacón-Reitzel said.
For years, she explained, the council had a similar partnership with the Animal and Range Sciences Department and presented lectures and demonstrations in the now-closed campus meat lab, which will reopen next year as part of the new agricultural district facilities currently under construction on the Las Cruces campus.
“We used to have the tool of the meat science lab to be able to teach students this kind of information,” Chacón-Reitzel said. “But since we don’t have one in operation at this point until the new meat science lab is built, we decided to go in the classroom.”
Hertzman said the current partnership benefits students across the college, not just those in the HRTM program. Students in the Family and Consumer Sciences Education, Human Nutrition and Dietetic Science, and Food Science and Technology programs regularly take the HRTM courses that feature the beef lectures and demonstrations.
HRTM junior Paloma Hernandez Perez said lectures and demonstrations helped her understand what’s behind beef.
“I was able to appreciate the differences between all the cuts of beef,” said Hernandez Perez, who assisted the beef specialists with their presentations. “I was behind the scenes this semester when they were preparing each cut for the presentations.”
Hernandez Perez, who wants to own a restaurant after graduation, added that the presentations, especially the tasting components, made for a richer learning experience.
“These presentations will definitely help me after graduation, and they’re greatly appreciated by all of the students,” she said.
Hertzman and Chacón-Reitzel hope to continue the partnership next year, pointing to the positive reception from students.
“We’ve had glowing evaluations and, the students are so grateful to have this opportunity,” Chacón-Reitzel said. “I think they also enjoy seeing someone else come into their classes.”
Author: Carlos Andres Lopez