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. Being born and raised in Vancouver, BC Canada where the food scene is robust 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 her two years working in the USA 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 Vancouver and dove into the world of fine food. Working for Vancouver’s high end catering scene and Apprenticing at Westwood Plateau Golf Course and Country Club she finished her Journeyman Red Seal Trade Certification. Since then she has held many prestigious roles such as Sous Chef at world renowned Grouse Mountain Resort 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!
Laura’s entry into the food industry started her junior year of high school. She worked as a cook at a mom-and-pop pizzeria just outside of Cleveland, OH and continued her work there during the summers off from college. Laura attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, where she studied Spanish. While there, she worked for the Event’s Crew. Whenever there was an event on campus, such as meetings, choir concerts, school dances, etc., she helped set up and made sure they went off without a hitch.
Upon completing her B.A. in 2009, she moved down to Orlando, FL and started working at Arthur’s Catering. She served at countless weddings and special events. Laura loved seeing all the different venues and seeing how they were decorated, all down to every last detail. She enjoyed making one of the most important days of a client’s life, a success.
In 2012, Laura moved across the country to the Grand Canyon state and continued her involvement in the food industry as a Catering Assistant at Rio Salado College. Laura’s knack for organization and attention to detail led to her becoming the department’s Catering Coordinator in 2017.
In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her pets, photography, traveling the world, and of course seeing what’s on the menu!