Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo
Eva Greer, right, head chef at the Greer Farm, tastes a dish prepared by Northeast Texas Community College culinary arts students Carlos Leclaire, left, and Brandon Rodriguez recently.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
PITTSBURG — Something's cooking at Northeast Texas Community College, and it's a tasty deal for both students and the public.
Beginning this semester, the college is offering a two-year associate degree in culinary arts, said Rick Rothwell, director of the college's Julia Truitt Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Program. Though the main NTCC campus is in Mount Pleasant, cooking classes are held at a college-owned restaurant in Pittsburg. The college previously offered a one-year certification program in culinary arts.
"Our program will open up some new avenues for people in this part of the state who are interested in careers as chefs," Rothwell said. "Part of our mission as a community college is to offer vocational training for people who want jobs that aren't office-oriented, because some people prefer more hands-on work."
Students in the program take 67 credit hours, most of which are cooking classes. However, they also take some general college classes in English, math and other areas. The associate degree can be used as the building block of a four-year degree at another college.
Rothwell said 17 students are enrolled, and he has received numerous inquiries from people interested in joining next semester. Students' ages range from late teens to mid-60s.
"We haven't set any specific limits on the number of students we'll enroll, but that may be something we'll have to do in the future," Rothwell said. "It's important for the instructors to be able to give individual attention to every student, and we also don't want to be turning out more chefs than the job market can absorb."
Shanna Hildreth, a 2009 graduate of Paul Pewitt High School, said she's grateful for the opportunity to pursue a cooking career while remaining in Northeast Texas.
"I learned to cook with my grandmother when I was a child and have always really enjoyed it," Hildreth said. "During my senior year of high school I was trying to decide what I wanted to do and this seemed like the perfect fit for me."
While her ultimate goal is to own a restaurant or bakery, Hildreth said she's been intrigued by the different sub-specialities in cooking and the opportunities for chefs to work in a variety of settings, including restaurants, cruise ships, country clubs and catering businesses.
Cathy Cace, a Longview restaurant owner and vice chairman of the Texas Restaurant Association's Education Foundation, was on the advisory board that helped get the program started. She said it is definitely needed in East Texas.
"We're really excited to have a culinary arts school in this part of the state," Cace said. "The restaurants in this area will now have a way to access local chefs with high-quality training."
Business classes are an important component of the degree, Rothwell said, because being a terrific cook is just one skill people need to be successful in the restaurant industry.
"The last thing we want to do is turn out people who are great chefs, but who end up going broke because they don't understand the fundamentals of running a restaurant," he said.
Many culinary schools have restaurants with regular hours in which the students serve as chefs, but for now the NTCC program is only operating its restaurant on a limited basis — three or four dinners or luncheons per month, Rothwell said.
"The danger in running a restaurant full time is that it can become your focus, and we want to direct our energy and attention to the students," Rothwell said. "It's important to allow our students some real-world experience, but they also need to have plenty of time to interact with the instructors without the pressure of customers waiting to be served."
For students outside of Camp, Morris or Titus counties, the average costs of tuition, books and fees per semester at NTCC is about $1,700, making the cost of the two-year program about $6,800. Rothwell said culinary arts students might have some additional expenses for items like knife kits, chef's uniforms and cookbooks.
Chefs in Northeast Texas generally start out at salaries between $22,000 and $32,000 a year, he said. However, top chefs in the Dallas area can make more than $65,000 per year.
College cooking lab offers taste in
By GLENN EVANS
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
There's a new way to hunt your food in Pittsburg, for those who keep their ears to the ground.
The downtown Our Place restaurant Pittsburg is, first and foremost, a teaching lab for the Northeast Texas Community College's Julia Truitt Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Program.
Eva Greer, right, head chef at The Greer Farm, works
with Northeast Texas Community College culinary arts
student Shannna Hildreth in early October.