Career of former resident is really ‘cooking’ at Indiana University

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Editor’s Note: Thanks to Paula Cloat, sister of Sherry Houze, for passing along this article courtesy of Indiana University. Sherry Houze is a former resident of Switzerland County, having served as president of the chamber of commerce and other organizations while living here.

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Like most people who multitask on the job, Sherry Houze is a woman who wears many different hats at work, but her hats all say the same thing: chef. Actually, some of them shout it.

“A couple of my hats are gigantic white chef’s hats,” says Houze, grinning from under a white baseball cap with a checkered bill and the word “chef” scripted in pink across the front. “I enjoy wearing the more unique ones to big events.”

As executive chef at the Indiana Memorial Union on the Indiana University Bloomington campus, Houze has plenty of opportunities to wear each and every one of her hats.

Besides overseeing the Tudor Room’s kitchen, Houze caters weddings, conferences, off-campus events for IU and events for the president’s office and student groups. She also hires and trains staff, plans and presents ideas about menus, handles product procurement, facilitates staff meetings and schedules, and monitors daily routines for all of the IMU’s kitchens, the bakery and the dish room.

Her average work day lasts anywhere between 10 and 12 hours – some longer – but she wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

“The day goes by quickly,” says Houze, who celebrated the beginning of her 10th year at IU on June 1st and has been a member of the American Culinary Federation since 1998. “I’m always busy ensuring that all the staff – from the cooks to the dishwashers – have what they need to do quality work in a safe and timely manner. I love it. Obviously I love it, to have stayed here 10 years!”

Other signs that Houze loves being a chef: the fresh herbs she grows at her home near Bean Blossom, the countless kitchen gadgets stored in her cupboards and the course she recently took at the National Center for Hospitality Studies at Louisville’s Sullivan University, from which she is a culinary arts graduate.

In 2003, Houze was one of just 26 American chefs to join a total of nearly 150 chefs from all over the world in South Africa to participate in the World Cooks Society’s “Chef’s World Tour for Hunger.”

The charity benefits orphans of AIDS victims and others in the region and surrounding countries who are fighting hunger. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, and one I hope I will get to do again,” she says.

Houze’s day begins around 8 a.m. at the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity on Bloomington’s campus. For a couple of hours each day, she instructs FIJI house cooks on cooking techniques, making their menus more nutritional and ideas about how to present the food visually. The guys tell her they really appreciate the effect she has had on their daily meals. Some have even asked her to make meals just like their moms make at home.

“That can be a challenge at times. It’s scary to be compared to mom,” laughs Houze, who says she enjoys helping out at the frat house. “Instead of having just one son, it’s like I have 90!”

Afterward, Houze heads over to the IMU to check on the Tudor Room, catering, The Market and the bakery before compiling product orders and sitting in on meetings (with the production staff about menus, recipes, and presentations or with the special events manager and potential clients), communicating with sales and delivery people, and wading through countless e-mails and phone messages.

She also helps facilitate the IMU’s daily donation of any leftover food to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank and the inclusion of local food – from sources such as Capriole Farm, Dillman Farm and Bloomingfoods – in the IMU’s offerings.

Through it all, she still usually manages to find time for her favorite activity – helping out on the floor.

“My favorite part of the day is any time I get to help out with the cooking and presentation on the floor, especially when working with an ethnic cuisine,” says Houze, who considers ethnic cuisines to be her specialty. “Sometimes we have special days, like for Black History Month. Traditional African cuisine is filled with spices, robust flavors and fresh ingredients, which adds up to great dishes – and pleased customers.”

Houze is always looking to learn new techniques and ethnic dishes. She attends national conferences, subscribes to several culinary magazines, and has a vast library of cookbooks both at home and in her IMU office. She frequently has had guest cooks from different ethnic groups join her in the kitchen and prepare authentic foods from their homelands.

In her scant spare time, Houze volunteers for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, serves on the culinary advisory board for the Hoosier Hills Vocational Career center, and does fundraisers for local halfway houses. She has been auctioned off as a chef in support of United Way and participates in the annual Art of Chocolate charity benefit, a fundraiser for the Bloomington nonprofit group Options for Better Living.

Her kitchen donates soup and cookies to the food bank’s annual Soup Bowl benefit and she has been active with the local Meals on Wheels program. In fact, Houze has become so involved in the community that the Alabama native feels right at home in central Indiana.

“I have a great staff who feel like family to me. They are dedicated, cooperative and enjoy what they do,” says Houze. “They support me and I support them. I’ve truly enjoyed the IU atmosphere, people and Bloomington over the past decade, and I hope I get to continue here for a long, long time.”

Photo courtesy of Indiana University