Butler trains next generation of chefs

02/28/2013 2:17 PM

02/28/2013 2:18 PM

With chef hats and jackets, the students in the Butler Community College’s Culinary/Hospitality Management Program are learning new skills and working on a dream.

John Michael, head chef and instructor for the classes, thinks Wichita can someday be a food mecca.

“The skill-set they get will allow our students to go on to bigger cities and work in fine restaurants,” Michael said.

“But the role of a community college is to serve the needs of the community. And that means meeting the needs of Wichita, and that’s where I want them.

“I don’t want them leaving for Chicago and New York. We want to make Wichita a more-thriving food center. Culinary programs have the ability to do that.”

For the past two semesters, the program has operated through an agreement with the city of Wichita out of the Boston Recreation Center, on Woodlawn between Lincoln and Harry. The college remodeled three classrooms and the center’s kitchen. It features state-of-the-art stoves, a convection oven, burner ranges, grill, freezer, refrigerator, a dish sink and an inside-outside grill for smoking foods. Much of the equipment came from Lawrence-Dumont Stadium when its cafe closed.

Students learn the art of sausage and pate making; sanitation management; culinary nutrition; cuisines of Asia, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and the Americas; as well as what wines would pair well with a particular meal. When they graduate, students should have 63 credit hours of study, menu development, skills and internships.

Since 2008, the hospitality program has expanded from 25 students to 85, said Tiffani Price, lead Hospitality Management instructor. She credits the popularity of television reality programs such as “Top Chef” and the Food Network for helping fuel the program’s growth.

“It became a sexy career and that was when we said, ‘What are we going to do to increase enrollment?’ ” Price said.

The college has established local internships and on-the-job training at the Hyatt Regency Wichita, Genghis Grill, Northrock Suites and at an El Dorado bar and grill

“We think it can become a crowning jewel for the college,” said Roberto Rodriguez, dean of technical education and the advanced-technology center. “It is something unique to the area, and that’s why we pursued it.”

The program offers students a chance to become acquainted with all levels of the industry.

“There are so many facets in the industry – so many places where you could plug yourself in – it doesn’t have to be as a chef,” Rodriguez said. “But you do need to understand the business of the chef and the vendors and all the other components.”

Price said a degree within the program can also include studies of hotel maintenance, engineering, housekeeping, front desk management, sales, marketing and accounting.

The program’s eventual goal, Price said, is to see a partially student-run business. Students could eventually operate a food truck through downtown Wichita, Michael said. Or run a hotel, Price said.

“We have dedicated, passionate instructors,” Rodriguez said. “That motivates us to move forward.”

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