You don't need to have prior experience in a restaurant to apply for the Culinary Arts program at Arizona Western College, just a passion for cooking.
The program will be expanding its culinary course offerings in the fall by adding the opportunity for students to receive an associate's degree in culinary arts in addition to the existing certificate program.
“This will be a huge addition to AWC,” said culinary arts professor Sheranne Dampier. “In the past, if a student wanted to get a degree rather than a certificate, their options have been Phoenix or San Diego. For Yuma students, that not only means high tuition but also living expenses. AWC will offer, what I feel, is a comparable program at a fraction of the tuition of other schools and will allow students to either live at home or on campus in our dorms.”
The program, which she estimates will take students about two years to finish, will further prepare students for life after graduation and help them gain useful skills to use in the professional culinary world or simply in their own kitchen at home.
Classes will give students an idea of all aspects of the culinary profession such as catering, baking, hospitality, food cost and purchasing, inventory — essentially how a restaurant is run from the front to the back of the house.
Dampier said she began teaching for the program seven years ago and became a full-time instructor for the college in August to help meet the demand of the courses.
“Our program is growing so much. Two years ago, our basic culinary class had 15 students. This year, we have 45 and it seems that there is a lot of interest.”
In addition to basic culinary arts, baking and other courses currently offered through AWC, the college will be introducing classes like American Regional Cuisine and International Cuisine. Dampier said the program also offers a field experience class where students do 55 hours of work in a restaurant in the community.
“It's very important that they get a feel for real situations. Some students have worked in restaurants before, but the majority have not; we have a lot of students coming right out of the high schools ... A lot of employers want students that they don't have to train in the basics. They want them to be able to come in and be able to handle a knife, know how to sauté, know how to braise, how to roast — they want to be able to give them a menu, give them basic instructions and for them to know what they're supposed to be doing.”
Culinary arts student Darold Natseway said he is happy to see the program expanding and reaching more people in the community.
“Given the obesity rate we always hear about in the media in this country, this gives students the opportunity to have those courses open to them so they can learn different techniques of meal preparation at home.”
Natseway, who has over 10 years of experience as a lead cook, said he plans to use his culinary education to be a personal chef or a caterer in the future.
Three AWC students, including Natsweway, were invited to meet and work with celebrity chef Robert Irvine along with two students from Gila Ridge High School during his recent show at Quechan Casino Resort.
“They did a lot of prep, they stayed behind the scenes,” said Dampier. “I think their interaction was more often with the sous chef in the back, but it was a good learning experience for them because they did realize how fast-paced something like that was. They really enjoyed it, enjoyed meeting him, seeing what he does and how he does it.
“It was a real positive experience for everyone ... I am thrilled that we were asked to participate. I love to see our students involved. I try to put my students out there as often as I can. We have a great program and I want the community to be aware of it.”
Culinary students at AWC offer a myriad of services to the community, including catering services through their Desert Chefs Culinary Club and cooking at events like the Yuma Visitors Bureau Field to Feast tours. During the span of the tours, students presented the community with 19 different lunches using vegetables and produce pulled directly out of local fields.
Students also cook five-course meals to the community for $25 a ticket. The next dinner people can partake in is on April 11, featuring a beef tenderloin entrée with an appetizer, soup, salad and dessert. On April 18 the main dish will be a rack of lamb, on April 25 it will be prime rib and on May 2, a buffet of student-selected menu items.
“It's probably one of the best meal you'll get in Yuma,” said Dampier. “We use the best ingredients we can find, everything is made from scratch, nothing comes out of a can.”
Tickets for the dinners can be purchased at the AWC business office by calling 344-7700.
Dampier said that because their kitchen and classroom are so small, they can fit only 25 people in for the meals, so they are first-come, first-served. She added that they are looking for an additional space at a school or another facility they can use in the evenings for their classes.
For more information, contact Dampier at Sheranne.Dampier@azwestern.edu or 344-7737.
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.