Culinary junior and Alexandria, Louisiana, native Crystal Lachney admits she doesn’t exactly know where “down the bayou” is, but she does know bayou skills like how to butcher an alligator — thanks to the meat fabrication class she took at Nicholls State University’s Chef John Folse Culinary Institute. The ambitious, proud Colonel has big city culinary skills, too, after spending the past summer working on the line at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York City.
“Nicholls has never limited me. I had the opportunity to work for Chef Marc Forgione, my culinary idol. He doesn’t usually take on externs, but he knew I had a quality education, and that’s what mattered most,” Lachney says. “Chef Marcelle Bienvenu had a connection, made a phone call and secured this special externship. Chef Marc was in the restaurant about two or three times per week, and he worked directly with me each time he came. He treated me like a line cook — he didn’t treat me like an extern.”
During her three months at Restaurant Marc Forgione, Lachney advanced from working in garde manger to assisting with hot appetizers, often clocking 12-hour shifts six days per week. When she returned to Thibodaux in August, she was called in to help prep the state-of-the-art kitchens of the new Lanny D. Ledet Culinary Arts Building for the start of the fall semester.
“We have the best equipment you can have. I wish a restaurant kitchen was actually the size of our Bistro kitchen,” says Lachney, who is currently on staff at Bistro Ruth, the university’s 96-seat, student-run restaurant. “It seemed like over night we went from having to cook on butane burners to having kitchens with more than enough space and top-notch equipment.”
Having attended culinary classes in the makeshift Gouaux Hall classrooms, Lachney is quick to point out that the former facilities weren’t what attracted her to Nicholls.
“It was the instructors who were so well-renowned — and I had seen the successful things that past students had done,” Lachney says. “I had looked at culinary institutes across the U.S., but I came and toured Nicholls and fell in love with the campus. A lot of people underestimate us, but I’m proud of all that my university offers.”