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Missoula chef retires after 35 years feeding, teaching college students

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: May 16 2013 06:25:16 PM MDT
Updated On: May 16 2013 11:25:17 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Missoulians will miss the talents of one of the community's best known chefs. For 35 years, Tom Seigel has been a fixture in Missoula, especially in academic circles.

The culinary arts school at Missoula College is hosting an elegant spread in  his honor.

Chef Tom Seigel visits with his students at Missoula College, as they scurry to prepare their teacher's finest cuisine. Seigel is retiring from the College after 5 years of teaching. Before that, he was a chef at the University of Montana's main campus.

"I think in 31 years I fed about 15 million people," said Seigel.

All that cooking led to a teaching career.

Students strive for book knowledge and technique. Beyond that, their instructor tries to produce passion in students.

"What we look for is what's in the heart," said Seigel, "what's in the soul."

Talk to his students, they know what it means. There is the passion. But there's also the organization.

"He always tells us to have both our belts and suspenders," said the executive chef of the Capstone dinner, Shawn Miller, "you always have your suspenders for your backup."

Fourteen students have their suspenders on, preparing a feast for their instructor. Tom Seigel is known for his American-style legitimate BBQ. Everybody's a little nervous.

"We refer to these recipes from the BBQ god and so there is a lot of pressure on us," said Jennifer Heggen.

Students and community members honored Seigel at the school’s annual Capstone Dinner on Thursday night. The annual event calls for students to prepare dishes, applying the skills they learn from instructors like Seigel.

NBC Montana caught up with Seigel at the event, and he explained how his retiring is bittersweet, and that the dinner was an emotional one for him. As he reflected on his accomplishments, he explained that interacting with his students was among his favorite aspects of his job.

“I enjoy telling them real stories that I think may be applicable. I think history repeats itself,” said Seigel.