This past fall, El Molino welcomed Mei Ibach, a celebrated local chef known for her passion and infectious enthusiasm, to head the school’s culinary arts department.
Ibach has been a chef at Santa Rosa Junior College, College of Marin, Homeward Bound Marin, Rancho La-Puerta Spa in Mexico, private cooking schools and venues around the world. She consults with restaurants and is often quoted in the press.
“She is one of the most creative culinary chefs I have ever known,” said famed Sonoma County restaurateur John Ash in a testimonial on Ibach’s website.
Ibach was born in a fishing village near Singapore and moved to the United States in her 30s.
She said that Singapore is all about food, especially street food.
“Food is larger than life in that part of Asia,” she explained.
Ibach was a preschool teacher for 10 years, and then she decided to try something different when she was in her 40s. She took a course in Hospitality and Culinary Arts at Santa Rosa Junior College.
“I was offered a job as an instructor at the JC after that course,” said Ibach. “I was the first person to graduate from being a student to a teacher in one semester.”
Though Ibach has had the opportunity to travel around the world and cook in many interesting places, she feels that Sonoma County is a wonderful place to be a chef. Chef Ash originally was her mentor, but now they work together.
“We get invited to co-teach at many places, and it is an East meets West experience,” Ibach said.
In Ibach’s culinary art classes at El Molino, the focus is on healthy eating and teaching the students cooking skills that they can use their whole lives.
“I actually teach them how I was trained in a professional manner,” said Ibach. “I focus more on techniques and foundation rather than just recipes.”
The students seem to be enjoying Ibach’s background and teaching style.
“Our teacher is amazing,” exclaimed Ahnicka Kjaer, a sophomore. “She is always there showing us new tips and tricks, and she is very experienced.”
When asked about her vision for the culinary arts program, Ibach said that she hopes to provide a comprehensive and competitive culinary training program that prepares students who are looking for a career in the professional food and hospitality service industry.
“I hope to continue to expand the partnerships with local chefs, restaurants and food agencies to enhance the student internships,” explained Ibach.
Currently, the culinary department is partnering with Food for Thought, an organization that provides meals to people with serious health issues. Ruth Kefkowitz, the chef at Food for Thought, helps the students prepare a weekly meal for the clients.
“It is a nice way to allow students to give back to the community,” Ibach said.
Ibach feels that tourism and hospitality are the fastest growing industries in Sonoma County. Taking a culinary arts class is one pathway for students.
“Not everyone wants to go to college,” she said. “A student can always get a job in hospitality as a server or cook.” El Molino offers many Career Technical Education classes. “A lot of high schools do not offer CTE courses,” Ibach pointed out. “For El Molino to have so many CTE options, the students are so lucky.”
Visit Ibach’s website to learn more about her background and even find some of her recipes: malaysiamei.com.