Local culinary arts programs get cooking in New North
These days the culinary arts industry has become an attractive career choice: From bartenders and wait staff to chefs, culinary arts degrees have really steamed up the area.
New North area educational institutions, such as Fox Valley Technical College of Appleton and Lakeshore Culinary Institute through Lakeshore Technical College, are seeing an increase in students seeking culinary arts degrees.
According to several culinary leaders at both colleges, the popularity has been growing over the last decade or more with help from media coverage, such as television channels like The Food Network and even local news stations like FOX 11’s Cooking with Amy.
Barb Dodge, Lakeshore Technical College’s Dean of Health and Human Services, says that television has given culinary arts a romantic appeal.
“It makes the career attractive so there’s a lot of demand for professional training,” she says.
“The food industry is definitely not dead,” says Chris Jossart, manager of media relations for Fox Valley Technical College.
Many of Fox Valley Technical College’s more than 60 culinary arts 2012 graduates each had about four job opportunities waiting for them, Jossart said in an e-mail.
He says culinary arts is one of the college’s leading degree-seeking programs. Chef Jeff Igel, who is Fox Valley Technical College’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Department chair, says there are about 300 students currently enrolled in the program. Moraine Park Technical College and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College also offer culinary arts programs, and NWTC is currently seeking applications for adjunct culinary instructors.
Lakeshore Technical College of Cleveland realized it needed to add a culinary arts program after watching students leaving for culinary arts at other schools.
“Our statistics demonstrated that we were losing over 30 students a year to culinary programs outside of Sheboygan and Manitowoc County,” Dodge says.
William Gottsacker, program chair and chef instructor at the Lakeshore Culinary Institute, also recognized the need for culinary arts at the college.
“What happens when students leave for pursing a culinary career, they usually don’t return to the area itself,” Gottsacker says. This, he says, hurts local businesses.
Dodge also says the hospitality and tourism industry contributes a great deal to Wisconsin’s economy, making culinary arts vital to the community. For these reasons, Lakeshore began offering a culinary arts program last May through the Lakeshore Culinary Institute. This includes a student-run, hands-on restaurant called the Lakeshore Culinary Institute Dining Room.
Gottsacker says this new fine dining facility was opened so culinary arts students could expand their lessons beyond the classroom.
“(Students’) introduction to the hospitality industry and practicing their hospitality skills is crucial for their education,” Gottsacker says.
According to Dodge, the Sheboygan area was chosen because of its many fine dining establishments and resorts available to aspiring chefs for more hands-on experiences.
Fox Valley Technical College is the largest training provider of professional chefs in Wisconsin, according to Jossart, and leaders of the school decided it was time to improve their culinary arts program by building a demonstration theater called the Jones Dairy Farm Culinary Theatre. This new Appleton campus addition enhances the program’s methods of meeting the demands of the industry, Jossart says.
The facility accommodates up to 150 students on tiered seats to watch detailed instructor presentations, using state-of-the-art cooking equipment, video cameras and projection screens, making this theater the first of its kind in Wisconsin.
“A background in food is a building block to many, many, many things,” Igel says. “About half of our students, maybe, want to work in restaurants. The other half sees opportunities to cook food in institutions, such as hospitals.”
Rick Boyer, executive chef for Destination Kohler/The American Club Resort and board member of the culinary arts advisory committee for Lakeshore Technical College, says he believes there’s been a significant growth in the culinary arts over the last decade.
But what has made it so popular and important?
“Food is a focal point for gatherings,” says Kevin Kincaid, chef and gourmet instructor for Lakeshore Culinary Institute.
He says our society has become more service-focused over the years, where people are interested in dining out more often.
“The culinary world when I was very young was not as highly esteemed as it is now,” he says. “You don’t have a typical 1950s family where mom stays home and cooks. Everybody works and so we’re all interested in quick, good and healthy, wholesome foods.”
Igel agrees saying, “The fabric of our society includes dining out … they’ll skip somewhere else but they still want to dine out.”
Kincaid says he does not see the culinary industry slowing down, but getting bigger over time, especially with the more recent concerns about the country’s nutrition.
“We’re just constantly hit with how important it is to eat properly,” Kincaid says. “There’s been a lot of genetic engineering of foods lately, and we’re seeing all kinds of interesting things pop up.”
Boyer believes that the quality of products a chef uses creates a better guest experience all around, especially now that he says consumers’ palates are much more refined than they were 10 to 20 years ago.
“Certain trends come and go but the basics always stay the same and it always comes back to high quality, simplicity and execution,” Boyer says.
Igel also sees a drastic change to culinary arts over the last 20 years, where chefs added vegetables, such as green beans, to main entrees for the sake of color versus nutritional value.
“Now people want good quality food whether they are eating at a restaurant or at the grocery store and taking it home,” Igel says.
According to Boyer, people are more aware of the atmosphere and quality of service and food at their disposal.
“People still want great service, but they don’t want it to be stuffy; people still want great food, but they don’t want the menu to be intimidating; people still want to have a great dining experience, but they are much more price conscious than they were five or 10 years ago,” Boyer says.
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