Stinging kitchen critiques may be fine for reality TV chefs, but they have no place at a publicly funded cooking school, investigations by Pima Community College have concluded.
PCC head chef Barry Infuso — known on campus as the “Dean of Cuisine” — is in hot water for creating a “hostile educational environment” for a visually impaired woman who said he ridiculed her cooking efforts.
Internal probes of the case found Infuso’s actions last year were unprofessional and in violation of a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Infuso, 68, a founder of PCC’s culinary arts program, couldn’t be reached for comment on the findings. Repeated calls and emails were not returned.
The student, Cheryl Baker, 66, has a number of physical problems.
She signed up to study culinary arts out of personal interest, not to work in the food industry, she said in an interview.
“I wanted to challenge myself. I thought it was going to be fun,” Baker said.
Instead, she said, Infuso mocked her, told her to “shut up” and failed to provide some of the learning aids for which she was approved.
“Whatever I cooked, he would say it was horrible,” Baker said, recalling how fellow students sniggered at the barbs.
“Once I made a salad and he said it looked like something that belongs at a Mormon picnic.”
One of Baker’s classmates said he was so offended by the chef’s behavior he talked to a campus vice president about it.
Infuso “seemed to single out” Baker, said Mario Raso , 67.
“He made fun of her food in front of the whole class, and she would just stay quiet while everybody laughed.”
“It was not appropriate behavior for an instructor in a position of power,” Raso said in an interview.
Baker quit the program. Her complaint spawned at least two internal investigations: one by a superior at the Desert Vista campus where Infuso works, a second by the college office that probes reports of illegal discrimination.
The first confirmed Baker’s claim. Infuso was warned to adopt a professional tone or face “more severe corrective measures,” records show.
The second said he violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by, among other things, failing to provide Baker with enlarged text to which she was supposed to have access .
Infuso, who unsuccessfully appealed PCC’s finding on discrimination, will receive training on federal discrimination laws and be monitored until the end of 2014.
Some internal records for Baker’s case are marked confidential. She agreed to disclose them, saying she thinks the public has a right to know what happened.
Raso, who still attends PCC, said he’s noticed recent improvements in Infuso’s behavior, a more cordial approach to students than in the past.
“I think he’s making an effort to be nicer, and that’s a good thing,” Raso said.
Infuso, who makes about $69,000 a year, helped start the school’s culinary arts program more than a decade ago.
Last year, before the investigations, he was named an “outstanding faculty member” by PCC’s administration.