Sustainable Foods Systems/Café @ Rio
Michael Hodgins comes from humble beginnings in the restaurant industry. At 15 years old, he began washing dishes at a country club in upstate New York. Spending many hours in the club kitchen would prove to be the spark that ignited his passion for food. In the ensuing years, Michael held various positions in the culinary field across the U.S., including stints as Executive Sous Chef for Levy Restaurants at the Staple’s Center in Los Angeles, Bank One Ballpark and U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix and Executive Chef at the Oakland Arena. Chef Hodgins also led the team at Bon Appetit as Executive Chef overseeing 7 kitchens on two campuses at Intel Corporation in Chandler.
Michael is a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University at Albany and a Master’s Degree from Northern Arizona University.
In 2004, Michael developed a serious interest in serving sustainable foods. He moved back to the Valley of the Sun and began locating sustainable farmers, ranchers and artisans, debunking the notion that “nothing grows in the desert.” Michael’s current role finds him as Director of Sustainable Food Systems/Café @ Rio at Rio Salado College.
Michael thinks that this provides the winning formula: Buying from local farmers who use sustainable practices will yield the freshest, most flavorful products available.
Michael also believes that, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life!”
Chef Ken Ballas
Executive Chef / Instructor
Ken’s passion for cooking arose by watching his mother prepare nightly dinners while he finished his homework at the kitchen counter. Often he found himself mesmerized by the sights and smells of what was being made as he peered past his text books. Ken’s introduction to the culinary field began when he started washing dishes at a valley restaurant and he quickly moved up the ranks holding line cook, lead line cook and Sous Chef positions; all before graduating high school.
After high school he took a hiatus from cooking and attended trade school. After two years away, his passion for creating new and unique dishes drew him back to professional kitchens. Chef Ballas returned to in the industry cooking at two notable restaurants in North Scottsdale over the past several years.
Hard work, dedication, a wealth of experience and a growing passion for sustainable food has led him to a chef/Instructor position at Rio Salado College where he is able to share his passion and knowledge with students, staff and the community.
Chef / Instructor
At a young age Erin found she had an affinity for cooking but it wasn’t until the end of high school that she realized the full strength of her passion. After high school she accepted the opportunity to go to Culinary School and never looked back. Graduating top of her class she was awarded a prized internship with Hyatt hotels in Cambridge, Maryland where she honed her craft and developed the base of skills for her entire career.
Following those two years she spent some time travelling in Asia and learning the intricacies of creating amazing food out of simple ingredients. She carried that knowledge and inspiration back to her hometown and dove into the world of fine food. Working for the high-end catering scene and Apprenticing at a prestigious Golf Course and Country Club, she finished her Journeyman Red Seal Trade Certification. Since then she has held many roles such as Sous Chef at world renowned Resorts and Catering Manager/Chef for influential farm to table restaurants.
Her love for food stems from its ability to bring people together. “No matter where you are in the world you will notice one thing and that is that food brings people together. It is at the foundation of our families, our relationships and our communities.” In 2017 Erin moved to Arizona and is now here with us at Rio Salado Community College to explore the wonderful world of sustainability in Arizona!
Dominic literally grew up in the restaurant business working in his family’s restaurant at an early age. This real-world experience taught him the in’s and out’s of the food industry. His passion for food would continue to grow and led him to take culinary arts classes in high school. Knowing he wanted to continue in the business, Dominic enrolled in culinary classes at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in the Executive Chef and Restaurant Management training program.
Mr. Romero honed his craft by working in Italian and Mexican restaurants then applied his years of experience to raise the bar and take these restaurants to the next level. While he enjoyed his time working in restaurants, healthy cooking and nutrition became his next passion. He knew he could make a difference in kid’s lives by focusing on school nutrition. This led him to roles as catering chef with the Mesa School District and Food Service Coordinator overseeing food service sites in the Gilbert School District. Feeding our youth with nutritious foods was an incredibly rewarding experience and one that he cherishes.
When the Catering Manager position became available at Rio Salado College, Dominic jumped at the opportunity to combine his chef and catering management experience with his love for healthy and sustainable foods. Dominic’s hard work ethic, attention to detail and creative menu writing has made him a tremendous asset to Rio Salado College and the Maricopa County Community College District.