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 Szabo has an extensive culinary background, and is a graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu. He began his career under the guidance of Chef James Boyce, at the prestigious Mary Elaine’s restaurant within the Phoenician resort & spa. In 2002, he again joined his mentor, Chef Boyce, as part of the opening culinary team of studio, the Forbes 5 star, AAA 5 diamond signature restaurant at the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach.
Akos has been fortunate to work under some of the best chefs in the country, while maintaining the helm as sous chef at Aqua, at the St. Regis, Monarch Beach and Brassierie Jo, at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston.
His culinary journey through Chicago landed him a position as executive sous chef at the world famous, Palmer House Hilton and Behind the Scenes Catering & Events. In 2010, he was part of the culinary team that went to showcase his talents at the Olympics in Vancouver.
Chef Szabo now brings his passion for high quality, healthy, farm fresh, organically grown local foods to Rio Salado College in efforts to expand the knowledge and benefits of operating the sustainable kitchen we call, Café @ Rio.
Chef Ken Ballas
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.
John began his career in the hospitality industry at an early age as a dishwasher at a local bar/restaurant in his hometown of Odell, IL. While attending college at Northern Illinois University John landed his first job as a server and his passion for the hospitality industry grew even stronger.
After attending the annual food show in Chicago, John discovered there were universities and colleges offering degrees in Hotel/Restaurant Management. He choose the University of Wisconsin where he earned his B.S. in that very discipline with a concentration in convention services.
After graduation, John headed south to warmer climates and a management position at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, FL. It was there that he had the opportunity to hold different management positions in banquets, catering and convention services. He discovered that catering and convention services were his true passion. He has worked for major hotel chains in convention services for many years.
“I threw the first boy/girl party of my 7th grade class in our basement. I planned it for months and it was a huge success! I still remember every detail.” That had to be a sure sign of the direction his career would lead him.
Joe is a native of the valley of the sun and has been in the hospitality industry since working room service for Holiday Inn during his high school years. He worked his way up to restaurant and bar manager and later moved over to the catering department as banquet captain.
Over the last 20 years he has been working at some of the valley’s finest hotels and resorts including as banquet manager at the Four Seasons Scottsdale and Glendale’s Renaissance Hotel. In this capacity he has worked some of the Valley’s most prestigious events with clients such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, the Rolling Stones and many professional sports teams. Mr. Roland has a keen eye for detail and brings high service standards to the catering department at Rio Salado College.