Pellissippi State Culinary Arts program coordinator feeds the masses at Cannes Film Festival

Chef Joseph Blauvelt helps a culinary student at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019
Chef Joseph Blauvelt, right, helps a culinary student in the American Pavilion at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Photo credit: Amirah Parker

When Americans at the Cannes Film Festival were looking for familiar food in France, it was Pellissippi State Community College’s own Chef Joseph Blauvelt who fed them.

Blauvelt, who has been Culinary Arts program coordinator for Pellissippi State since February, was one of the chef managers at the film festival’s American Pavilion, helping lead a 13-person team that fed just over 2,000 people in the first two days alone.

“It was a lot of work,” said Blauvelt, who lives in Maryville with his wife and two children. “I absolutely love Europe, and I would move there in a heartbeat if I could, but they also worked our tails off. There were days we worked 17-hour shifts.”

This was not Blauvelt’s first experience at the Cannes Film Festival, which was held May 14-25. He had worked there as a student in 1998, 1999 and 2000, after he graduated from culinary school at Sullivan University in Kentucky. This time he was invited back as a manager.

“It was just a treat, after 20 years, to experience it again,” Blauvelt said.

For Blauvelt, who spent 13 years in research and development for Custom Foods in Knoxville, it also was fun to get back into a restaurant setting – albeit one with limited resources.

“We had a small kitchen with two hot plates, a panini press and a griddle,” Blauvelt explained. “That actually had improved since I was last there, when all we had was a hot plate and a microwave.”

While the daily menu was “simple fare” such as paninis, quesadillas and hamburgers, Blauvelt noted the team also was responsible for catering private dinners sponsored by American Airlines, British Airways and IMDb. Much like an episode of “Top Chef,” each sponsored dinner was a different menu – and the team was challenged to produce restaurant-caliber food out of “literally a circus tent,” he added.

Tuna tartare with julienned vegetables and cranberry foam
Chefs and culinary students at the American Pavilion created this tuna tartare with julienned vegetables and cranberry foam for a private dinner during the Cannes Film Festival.

But the less-than-ideal kitchen didn’t stop the American Pavilion team from turning out plate after plate of Instagram-worthy dishes, which they hashtagged #makeitsexy on social media.

“The biggest difference I saw between 20 years ago and now is the quality of the food,” Blauvelt said, scrolling through his photos of deconstructed lemon meringue pie, tuna tartare with julienned vegetables and a lamb chop with a lamb jus made by one of the managers who is a saucier. “I would’ve bathed in that sauce if I could have.”

The American Pavilion managers had to be on site at 5:30 a.m. to set up for breakfast for the culinary students, which was held at 6:30 a.m. The American Pavilion opened to the public at 9 a.m. daily and stopped serving at 10 p.m. On evenings that the team also catered private dinners for sponsors, however, the managers wouldn’t get out of the kitchen until 11:30 p.m. or midnight.

“There’s a certain kind of camaraderie that comes with shoving a bunch of people who don’t know each other into a small kitchen together,” Blauvelt said. “And there’s the rush of the restaurant. I’ve been out of a restaurant for 16 years. It was that rush after a shift that you miss.”

Culinary students from all over the world may apply to work at the American Pavilion, the chef explained, noting one of the 2019 students was from London. Those who are chosen pay American Pavilion $1,900 that covers their housing and meals for the entire Cannes Film Festival.

“This is the experience of a lifetime, and there needs to be Pellissippi State students there,” Blauvelt said, noting he plans to bring the American Pavilion recruiter to Pellissippi State this year. “A lot of our students here never get out of this area or have never been on a plane. I want our students to see it, to experience the chaos.”

For more information about Pellissippi State’s Culinary Arts program, visit www.pstcc.edu/culinary. There’s still time to apply for fall semester, which begins Aug. 26. For more information on how to apply, visit www.pstcc.edu/admissions/.

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