Cultivating a life of excellence

Chef Kevin Thomas talks with culinary student Christine Masson.

MCCC’s new community farm is getting a taste of viticulture.

The campus vineyard will spread its vines to the community farm in the spring.

That will make it easier to see from the road.

“Because vineyards look pretty cool when you’ve got the rows of vines that are growing and you can see the grapes hanging down, it’s pretty neat,” Kevin Thomas, one of MCCC’s culinary professors, said.

Thomas is one of the nine MCCC employees and former employees on the executive board of the Bacchus Society.

The Society is a group of people who enjoy wine and take care of the campus vineyard, he said.

A couple employees approached Thomas about a vineyard on campus.

“They talked with me and then the three of us all worked together to get the thing off the ground,” Thomas said.

That was the beginning of the Bacchus Society.

The vineyard was planted in 2010 and is in the back corner of the campus. The grapes ripen in small batches and are used to show students how to make wine. The Bacchus Society will do a one day wine-making class in April, Thomas said.

“Wine is a very huge part of what I do. I teach a lot of classes in wine understanding. I teach lifelong learning classes here at the college,” Thomas said. “I’ve even done some other classes pertaining to wine at other locations as well.”

Also among his passions are food and teaching.

He started at the college in 1987.

“I knew at a very young age, actually probably when I was 15 years old, cooking was something I wanted to do and I actually started working in restaurants when I was 14,” he said.

A few years later, he found another passion when he was introduced to wine while working at a French restaurant in Birmingham, Michigan.

“That’s when I started tasting wine with food and doing food and wine pairings,” Thomas said.

After graduating from high school, Thomas went to New York to the Culinary Institute of America, or CIA. After graduation, he came back to Michigan as an executive chef and worked at a few restaurants for the next four years.

He heard about a job opening at MCCC, and was introduced to his next passion: teaching. He applied for the job and just entered his 31st year at the college.

The students are the best part of the job, he said, adding that he enjoys coming to work each day.

“The main reason for that is because I’m working with students who are interested in something that is a passion of mine, and I enjoy that part of it very much,” he said.

“He knows what he’s doing, he’s very knowledgeable, and I don’t think there’s somebody that I would want to be my teacher other than him,” said Stephen Howe, a culinary student at MCCC.

Vicki LaValle is the other culinary instructor at MCCC.

“He’s just dedicated to the profession, dedicated to the students, he just loves what he does and he’s excellent at it,” she said.

Thomas was quick to pick his favorite dishes to cook: seafood and wild game.

His reasoning was simple.

“Because I’m an avid hunter and fisherman,” he said.

Thomas wasn’t as quick to pick his favorite kind of wine.

“I’m definitely a dry red wine drinker. I do like blended wines, for example, the Bordeaux style. That’s French wine; it’s all red wines that are blended,” he said.

Outside of hunting, fishing, and food, Thomas likes to golf, visit his property in northern Michigan, and spend some time on one of his three pontoon boats.

Thomas once again talked about his love for what he does.

“I’d emphasize the fact that I really, truly do like to go to work every single day of my life,” Thomas said.

There are people who can’t say that, he said.

“You know what they say: you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.