Southwest Tech Instructor Spotlight: Karen Bast and Jeff Dombeck

Southwest Tech Instructor Spotlight: Karen Bast and Jeff Dombeck

Karen Bast and Jeff Dombeck are instructors in the Culinary Program at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. Bast, of Lancaster, Wisconsin, attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and earned a bachelors in Business Administration with an emphasis in marketing, management, and human resources. Bast’s professional experience includes: owning and operating the Arrow Inn Restaurant in Lancaster, Wisconsin, working on a pilot project for the state of Wisconsin (W3, a welfare to work program), and serving as the Dining Services Administrator at UW-Platteville. Bast has been employed by Southwest Tech for a total of 16 years. Dombeck, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, attended Madison College earning a two-year associate degree in Restaurant and Hotel Cookery. He continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hide Park, New York. Dombeck’ s professional experience includes: working in research and development at Country Made Foods, head baker at Charlie-O’s Restaurant and Shorewood Village Bakery, and as a manager at Westmoore Country Club. He has been employed by Southwest Tech for 21 years.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Bast: I come from a long line a wonderful cooks and bakers on my mom and dad’s side, the Pink and the Gotto families.
I love family. Anything to do with my family is my favorite thing – even more than my belts and scarves.

Dombeck: I go to sleep thinking about food, dreaming about food, and wake up thinking about food – food is everything. School is everything as well. We are always thinking about our students.

What led you to pursue a career in the culinary industry and become an instructor at Southwest Tech?

Dombeck: I got into it, like a lot of people get into this field – I like to eat. I started as dishwasher. Then what happens is someone doesn’t show up one day and eventually you get involved in new and better opportunities, and learn. Before you know it you’re running the kitchen. I was lucky, I have always known that I wanted to work in the culinary industry. I ended up teaching, because I was good at training, and I really enjoyed it.

Bast: I was much different than Jeff. I got into the culinary business because I was good at it, and I made a lot of money. I never planned on staying in the industry. My plan was always to work in the culinary industry “until” – until I went to college, until I had children, until I got into the industry that I went to school for, or until I got a “real” job. My passion was really fashion. I never planned on teaching in the culinary department. I thought that if I take the job as a culinary instructor at Southwest Tech, I can transfer to the marketing department when something opens up. Then I met Jeff. He served as my mentor and taught me what culinary was really about.  He’s the one that opened my eyes to the possibilities of what is all available in the culinary industry.

What do you wish people knew about this program?

Bast: I wish people knew the endless opportunities available for our graduates. You can do anything; from running a food truck, to owning a bakery, to being a professional chef for the Milwaukee Brewers. Have you ever watched the credits at the end of a movie? They list the caterer – you can be a caterer on a movie set.

Dombeck: I’m on a mission to educate, not just our community, but the world, that it takes a very special person to be successful in this industry. Not everyone can do it. It’s a business of perfection, because the one time that it’s not perfect, you pay for it.

Bast: It’s just like being a Broadway performer. You prepare for the show, memorize your lines, you open the door or the curtain, you perform your act or serve, the show comes to an end, the guests leave, the door closes, the curtain comes down, and you clean up and prepare for the next show the next day.

Dombeck: Food makes people happy. You get paid to make people happy. You get to spend time with people when they’re happy. It’s a big adrenalin rush.

What’s great about the Culinary Program at Southwest Tech?

Bast: The amount of experience that we both bring to the program in very valuable to students. Books can only teach you so much. Jeff and I can teach lessons based real-life situations. We’re both still very passionate about the industry. We are committed to working with students one on one when necessary. We want to help them with any issues they have personally and professionally. We walk someone off of the ledge just about every week, because we believe in them and know they belong in our program.

Dombeck: We’re teaching alongside our students 28-30 hours a week, not including the time we spend with them in our offices. We get to know them really well – their kid’s names, their parents’ names, where they work, how much they make and don’t make, even what they drive.

Bast: We teach so many exciting lessons outside of the classroom. We take students off campus and visit other restaurants and businesses. We also attended national conferences. All of this is included in their tuition fee. It’s important to give them an overall view of the industry, and not just in our district.

The biggest reason they should come to Southwest Tech over other institutions is the one-on-one support that they receive here. It goes beyond us, the students also take care of one another. It’s a lot of hard work, and if they don’t know it before they come, they learn pretty quickly. There is a big need for support. More than hard work, we want them to see the joy in what we do. Like when we take them to events like the Farm to Fork event that we hosted in Platteville last October. It was really hard work, but the joy and happiness they experienced from being a part of something so big was so rewarding. We cannot give them those experiences inside of the classroom.

Dombeck: There is a student club – some of them will be going to New Orleans during spring break for a conference. We held fundraisers to help cover expenses.

You two are great.

Dombeck: We work well together. She sets the stage and I bring the humor.

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