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May 2009
Ingedients for Success
By Janet Kropinak

     CPCC Culinary Arts students will move into a brand new state-of-the-art facility on its Central Campus this fall. Located on the John Belk Plaza portion of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, the building is the fruition of dedication and perseverance on the behalf of CPCC faculty and administrators, generous corporate partners and an embracing community.

     “It’s spectacular,” comments Bob Boll, division director for hospitality education at CPCC. He says the facility has been on the strategic plan for years, noting they outgrew their current home in the Citizens Center years ago.

“This building is going to give us the space to do what we do really well, as well as give our students a place to learn and grow as professionals,” he continues.

     And his enthusiasm is shared among his colleagues. “I have been through the new building twice to witness the progress and all I can say is ‘Wow,’” echoes Jeff LaBarge, co-program chair for the department.

     The 36,000-square-foot culinary facility will feature five main kitchens, four classrooms, an auditorium, and a dining room.

     The two-story building, which sits on four acres, is nearly three times the size of their current facility, and will be the new home to over 300 culinary students and nearly 100 hotel and restaurant management students.

     When asked about the road it took to get to where they are, Boll is quick to acknowledge Piedmont Natural Gas for their continued support of the program. It was announced at the dedication and groundbreaking last July that a new dining lab in the facility will be named Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation Dining Room in recognition of a generous grant to the College’s culinary program for equipment for the new building and to endow a scholarship for culinary students.

     He also recognizes LS3P Architects and Rogers Construction for helping bring their collective visions to realization. The building, which has been under construction for a year, was funded through the 2005 bond referendum at a cost of $12.4 million.

     But Boll insists the ends justify the means when you consider what they will be able to offer students and, in turn, the local hospitality industry.

     “The new building will not only allow us to increase the quantity and quality of instruction, but also increase our efficiency, creating a better learning environment for our students,” Boll explains. “It reflects the changing industry and was designed to be technologically advanced, which will give our students a competitive edge as they enter the work force.”

     Acknowledging that they only have a limited amount of time with students, he feels they will now be more effective in meeting their needs.

     “We’ve been able to give our students a suitable learning environment, with current industry equipment, but the new building’s labs are going to greatly expand our capabilities,” explains Jim Bowen, co-program chair.


The Program Menu

     Currently, the hospitality industry makes up 8.1 percent of the global economy and that number is projected to increase to 18 percent by 2012, creating more than 1.6 million new jobs. Here in North Carolina, tourism has grown into one of the state’s largest industries. Annually, the state sees over 60 million visitors who leave behind more than $14 billion.

     Restaurants are an engine of economic growth, generating significant sales and tax revenues for the state. They are also unique in that they provide career and employment opportunities for individuals of every age, background, and skill and experience level.

     North Carolina alone is projected to add 78,700 jobs in the restaurant industry by 2017, which means established, full-service restaurants, hotels, resorts, catering operations, and health care facilities are all looking for educated, qualified chefs.

     Responding to this growing need for training, CPCC’s culinary program is divided into three sectors: culinary arts, hotel and restaurant management, and baking and pastry arts.

     The culinary arts curriculum provides the training to prepare students for careers as culinary professionals.

     Students are afforded the opportunity to learn on state-of-the-art equipment in a variety of settings, including classrooms, labs and work-study programs. The goal of the program is to help students produce unique culinary creations by giving them the best tools and products available, which is made easier by the small classroom settings and individual attention from trained faculty to help each student achieve their career goals.

     Jeff LaBarge weighs in on what sets their curriculum apart: “First of all, our students spend more time in the kitchens, not only being trained in the classics but also what is practical in what we call the real world.” He continues, “We want these students to have the knowledge to quickly adapt to any type of food service operation upon completion of their respective program.”

     The hotel and restaurant management curriculum prepares students to understand and apply the administrative and practical skills needed for supervisory and managerial positions in hotels, resorts, inns, restaurants, institutions, and clubs. In addition to a two-year associate degree, the program offers diplomas in hotel management and in restaurant management, as well as four specialized certificates.

     During their training, students acquire real skills while training in the CPCC Restaurant. They have an opportunity to earn the valuable ServSafe Food Protection Manager certificate, which is recognized nationwide as the preferred sanitation and safety certificate. Additionally, they receive specialized training by certified instructors, and earn ServSafe Alcohol and N.C. ABC Responsible Alcohol Service Program (RASP) certificates.

     On the hotel front, students get a chance to experience the challenges of front desk training in a co-op program at real Charlotte hotels.

     On the Harris campus, the baking and pastry arts program provides the training to prepare students for a career as a baking/pastry professional in a variety of food service settings. The two-year program includes 12 baking classes covering artisan and specialty bread, European cakes and tortes, petit fours and pastries, chocolate artistry, and pastry and baking marketing.

     In keeping up with the times, CPCC’s curriculum has evolved alongside the industry to help keep students aware and educated on the latest trends and techniques. Boll notes specifically the shift toward local foods and all things organic.

     “From just 10 years ago, the shift toward organic has been huge,” he says. “It has become essential for us to build this into our teachings.”


The CPCC Advantage

     In addition to an evolving curriculum and their new facility, Boll explains CPCC has many advantages over other programs in the area. He begins with the biggest selling point, their affordable price. For just about $6,000, CPCC offers students the opportunity to earn an associate degree.

     “We are tens of thousands of dollars less expensive than other local programs. How come? First all we are tax supported, and our marketing budget is extremely low,” comments LaBarge. “However, just because we are considerably less expensive doesn’t mean our students are getting any less education here—in fact, I believe they get more for their dollar by far than any other programs.”

     Many students take advantage of CPCC’s affordable pricing by enrolling in their two-year degree program and transferring to another program to obtain their bachelor’s degree or continue their training. This flexibility allows more students the opportunity to pursue degrees and advanced culinary training.

     Eric Greenwell, who spent 31 years in the newspaper industry, decided to try his hand at something new after he became a casualty of the current economic downturn. After looking at several local culinary programs, he decided to pursue baking and pastry arts training from CPCC. He lists cost, quality, scheduling and time frame among the deciding factors.

     This March Greenwell was accepted into the prestigious French Pastry School in Chicago where he will continue his training this summer. Upon completing his program, Greenwell plans to return to Charlotte to open a bakery and is thankful for the training and platform CPCC has provided him.

     “CPCC has prepared me with a skill set and added knowledge to pursue additional education from one of the finest French pastry schools in the country,” Greenwell boasts. “They will certainly be a big part in the success of my future career. Without CPCC’s culinary program and its chef instructors, I would not have had the opportunities I now have.”

     “We’ve proven that we’re able to offer our students a quality education and are so proud to say we do it at an affordable price,” echoes Boll.

     The CPCC Culinary Arts program is the only school in Charlotte to have received accreditation from the American Culinary Federation Foundation Accrediting Commission, granted in 2007. This specialized accreditation is a voluntary action on the part of the institution that requires curriculum, faculty, resources, support staff, and organizational structure to meet or exceed quality standards.

     “Our accreditation shows that we have achieved high learning standards. For more than 30 years, CPCC has been a leader in the Charlotte region for culinary education,” states Boll. “This distinction recognizes the outstanding instructors and commitment to quality education we have at CPCC.”

     Another advantage of being a community college, in addition to the resident-friendly cost, is that the programs are tailored to accommodate nearly any schedule, offering both day and evening classes, which is essential given the diverse student body within the culinary program.

     As for what makes a good student, Boll says open mindedness and an eagerness to learn. Of course the traditional mainstays such as dedication, hard work and people skills are important too.

     Bolls breaks the student mix into three sectors: those straight out of high school, those in their 30s to 40s looking for a career change, and those in their 50s to 60s also ready for a career change. He explains that the younger students are generally pursuing a degree, while many of the older students are completing certificate training and learning more competency skill sets.

     Teaching this diverse mix of students is what Boll refers to as an “involved faculty.” Each faculty member is an ACF-certified chef and all but one has owned their own restaurant.

     “This combination positions our faculty to guide students on their professional ventures,” he explains. “Part of their job is to assist students in being successful in their future careers and helping them make good choices for long-term success.”

     Jim Bowen, who has been teaching since 1988, explains the role of the faculty: “We spend a lot of time walking students through the process. Why did the food have this texture, flavor, aroma, when we were done cooking it? What cooking method did we use? How would this cooking method work for other food products that have the same composition, different composition?”

     He continues: “When our students get out of the kitchen, they are not always presented with a recipe, so they must use the critical thinking skills to achieve the desired result.”

     With a new building, national accreditation, and a hands-on faculty, CPCC remains at the forefront of work force training in the region. Offering students a high quality education at an economical price, CPCC has established an exceptional and affordable alternative to students looking to enter the growing hospitality industry.

     Boll sums it up: “CPCC’s culinary arts program is preparing students with the right skills, for the right jobs, at the right price. And that is what truly sets us apart.”

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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