Chef training stirs up regional attention Community college competes for best vocational program

September 28, 1995|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel Community College's chef apprenticeship program, a little more than two years in the making, is about to play with the big kids.

The program recently was named a regional semifinalist for a U.S. Department of Education award given to exemplary programs in vocational and technical education.

"We're pretty thrilled about it," said Elaine Madden, program coordinator for the college. "It's an honor to be selected for an award like that . . . [and] I think the students are tickled about it, too."

The program, established in 1993, is part of the school's Hotel/Restaurant Management program, which is one of six nationwide to offer a chef apprenticeship within an associate of applied science degree. The Arnold program has 35 students.

"It's really a word-of-mouth program," said Ms. Madden, noting that most of the program's advertising is done through national chef and restaurant organizations. "I swear it's the best-kept secret."

Students take one day of classes that are a mixture of culinary instruction in areas such as food preparation and baking, and management courses such as marketing.

The rest of the week is spent in the kitchens of restaurants, clubs and hotels in the metropolitan area. Students work 6,000 hours, or three years, witnessing the daily problems and triumphs of making some of the finest dishes.

"The idea behind the chef apprenticeship program is it's a work experience-based component to an academic curriculum," Ms. Madden said. "It's a marriage of both worlds."

Ms. Madden said the school is selective about where it places its students. Prospective restaurants must meet requirements such as making at least 51 percent of the items on its menu from scratch.

Ms. Madden said the community college established the program after hearing the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Central Chef's and Cook's Association question the educational preparation of the potential chefs and cooks.

"What you're really looking at is an industry that is constantly changing, and the people who want to be chefs need to be more educated," Ms. Madden said. "They have to have a better background."

For Bob Price of Arnold, working in a restaurant has become a way of life. The 21-year-old Severna Park High School graduate started as a dishwasher at the Oxbow Inn when he was 14.

Mr. Price originally considered a job as an emergency medical technician but decided to change after he took a culinary class at the college.

"A job as an EMT seemed more monotonous," said Mr. Price, who now works at the Chester River Inn on the Eastern Shore. "Working in a restaurant is different every day, and if it got too monotonous, I could always change and work somewhere else.

"I didn't want to sit in front of a computer all day and have it tell me what to do. As a chef, I can do my own thing."

Ms. Madden said becoming an apprentice is the best way for students to find out whether they want to be chefs.

"A lot of students say they want to do one thing," she said. "But when they get out of school, they say, 'Why did I want to do this?' Now they can try this, and see if they like it."

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