Cooking up careers

The scent of baked bread mingled with chopped onion and celery in the kitchen of the Los Robles building on the Glendale Community College campus.

It was 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and students in the Advanced Food Preparation class were completing the dishes for the weekly luncheon at the Culinary Arts Department's restaurant. The theme was Florribbean, which combined the tastes of Florida and the Caribbean islands.

The entrees were jerk chicken with pineapple chutney, coconut curry mahi-mahi or stuffed chayote squash.

Teams of four students were placed at stations throughout the room. Some were frying up the yucca fritters, while others created the sunshine aioli dipping sauce made of garlic, salt, black and cayenne pepper, mayonnaise, annatto oil and lime juice.

At another station, student chefs were chopping celery, red onion, red and green bell pepper and parsley for the black-eyed pea salad, which would become the backdrop for lean slices of smoked pork loin.

Anush Nalbandyan was cutting up tropical fruit to top the coconut rice pudding.

"Wednesday is my exciting day," she said. "I want to make it so the customers will like our cooking and come again."

Members of the second-semester advanced food preparation class worked alongside first-semester students in the Basic Food Preparation class.

The advanced students function as the leads because they have more experience, said Andrew Feldman, culinary arts department chair.

Students start with the preparation work on Monday and the dishes are completed Wednesday mornings.

The purpose of the course is to give the students a hands-on experience, he said.

"Real-world skills demand real-world practice, so I set the restaurant up the way they would work in a restaurant," he said. "They need to be ready on time. If they don't show up, it's like not showing up to work on time. There are consequences. So, if they want to be professionals, this is a good start."

One of the benefits is that the cost of taking a culinary arts course is lower at the community college level than at a private culinary arts school, which can cost upwards of $50,000.

"We are giving a similar experience for 5% of the cost," said Feldman, who added that his students have gone on to successful careers in the field.

A chef has a huge responsibility compared to a cook who makes the food to order following the same recipes each day. A chef is not only responsible for the food coming out of the kitchen but the buying, sanitation, menu writing and menu costing.

"What we try to emphasize is a well-rounded education to be a chef and good communication skills," Feldman said. "You have to talk to your staff and motivate your staff and talk to people on the outside — customers and vendors — so good communication skills are really important."

The culinary classes have helped Nalbandyan learn to communicate with fellow students, she said.

"I didn't have those skills before, but now I do," she said.

And there are other career choices besides chef, Feldman added. Some people might be better at buying the food or packaging it. There are also opportunities in the health-care industry at long- and short-term care facilities.

"Hospitals and schools require dedicated culinary professionals attuned to dietary needs of the people they serve," he said.

While Feldman's class is cooking the meal, the Catering and Banquets Operation class sets the tables and provides the wait and bus service during the luncheon, said Michael Lao, program director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program.

Students serve internships with local restaurants and hotels, including the Hilton Glendale and Marriott Burbank Airport.

FYI

What: Los Robles Wednesday Restaurant

When: Noon to 1 p.m.

Where: Glendale Community College, 1500 Verdugo Road, Glendale

Cost: $8.50 donation, $6.50 students

Reservations: (818) 240-1000, Ext. 3210 or verap@glendale.edu

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