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2013 June 2 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS: Culinary Program Launch Has NM Students Cooking

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Sharyn Hill and Pat Desmond were cracking eggs to make mini cheese cakes in the new culinary arts kitchen at Doña Ana Community College.

“I just decided to come to school when I found out they were getting ready to open this new school,” Desmond, culinary arts student, said. “That’s what brought me back.”

Both students are retired, but are now aiming at a degree in culinary arts.

“It is easily one of the best culinary programs around,” Hill said.

At a recent event, chefs and students gave guests mini cheese cakes, small samples of food and tours around the new facility. They were also getting lots of food ready for the grand opening of the Student Resources Building, in which the culinary arts program is housed.

In one whole wing of the building, a classroom, like many others, sits next to a demonstration lab, where, instead of a white board, there’s a full kitchen where instructors will demonstrate culinary techniques; complex mixtures or knife skills. This demo room is also equipped with a video system that records what the instructor is doing in about three different angels so students can watch it as many times as they need to online.

Down a hall is a large lab that’s made up of three identical work spaces.

And then, it’s the kitchen of all kitchens. A large “lab” that’s equipped with every kitchen tool and machine that’s currently being used in any commercial kitchen.

“If it’s not in the field, it does not exist in here,” said Gemma Wenner, lead hospitality instructor. “We can do it all, as far as training our students.”

This kitchen is for the more advanced students who know how to use 65-pound mixers or large standing ovens.

This is where chefs will be made. It’s many times bigger than the lab that current hospitality and tourism students were using at Alma de Arte, Wenner said.

Wenner is one of three instructors. Tom Aguis, chef at the Las Cruces Convention Center, and Carl Miller, who was an executive chef at several hotels and resorts, are also on staff, Wenner said.

“It’s just incredible the amount of stuff, the amount of small wares, you need to open up a kitchen,” said Kim Seifert, DACC business and marketing department chairman. “We have some really high-class, high-end, state-of-the-art equipment.”

The purchasing and ordering started last summer, and for more than $1 million — coming from construction contracts, general obligation bonds and state funds — the new culinary arts program was completed last fall.

DACC’s first ever culinary arts classes will start in the fall and classes are getting filled very fast.

“We actually had to add a whole new cooking class because we filled up,” Seifert said.

In two years or more, they hope to graduate at least five students, which is the requirement to have the program fully accredited by the American Culinary Federation, he said.

“They can become certified culinarians,” Seifert said. “Which is one step toward being a master chef.”

Max Gomez is looking to open his own restaurant, while doing baking on the side. He’s signed up for a beginning cooking class, two general food-related classes and a measurements/math course, he said.

“I love it,” Gomez said. “Actually, none of us can’t wait to get in there and start cooking.”

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