McKenna Opbroek is spending her summer in a culinary wonderland. Opbroek, a hospitality management and tourism major at Northwestern State University from Keithville, is concluding her summer work as a pastry intern at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. The 2,881-room hotel run by Marriott is one of the largest in the world.
Opbroek works on pastries and deserts for banquets meetings and events at the hotel that may range from as few as 15 people to 5,000.
“I have always loved baking and working in the kitchen while I was growing up,” said Opbroek, who is taking a concentration in hospitality services and a minor in culinary arts. “My passion for pastries and baking developed more during my past two years at NSU. I have learned some things at NSU as well as on my own, but being in a professional kitchen this summer has taught me a lot as well.”
Opbroek works with a number of experienced chefs who have been working at the hotel for more than 20 years.
“They have devoted their lives to this industry and have learned so much,” said Opbroek. “I have really enjoyed working on various plated desserts for sit down banquets. I loved seeing the different flavor palettes and color combinations we created for the different plates.”
She has enjoyed the challenge of working with groups that would make unusual requests.
“A large group came to the hotel that wanted everything they ordered to be pink. This was a super fun week for us. We made hundreds of various cookies, plated desserts and cheesecakes that were all pink,” said Opbroek. “There was a kids camp that we would do every few weeks that I got put in charge of. Kids would sign up for this camp and we would bring them to the pastry kitchen to make and decorate cookies or cupcakes. It was a lot of fun for them and for me.”
Opbroek said working in a professional setting has been a challenge that she has been able to meet. She feels she will be ready to enter the culinary field after graduating next May.
“One of the most helpful things I have learned working at the Gaylord is how to work quickly and productively,” she said. “I have gotten very quick with making desserts after this summer. For the smaller parties it is much easier to create perfect desserts, but for the larger parties time is the bigger issue.”
Opbroek said the preparation she has received in Northwestern State’s culinary arts program assured she was ready for a challenging internship.
“My classes at NSU have taught me a lot about the management side of things,” said Opbroek. “This has helped me a lot in the kitchen with thinking in a productive manner. The hospitality management classes as well as culinary arts classes have also helped me with learning how to think on my feet. When circumstances came up at the Gaylord and extra or different desserts were needed as soon as possible, I was able to help quickly and get everything out to the designated parties in a timely manner.”
For more information on Northwestern State’s hospitality management and tourism degree, go to hmt.nsula.edu/degree-information.