Eat, learn, create
With the food industry at the height of its popularity and mass appeal, the Associate of Applied Science Culinary Arts program at Robeson Community College can help students cultivate their passion for the culinary arts and help them develop a career in the industry by offering a hands-on kitchen experience guided by seasoned chefs.
A chef’s skill in the kitchen is honed with practice and repetition. And there is as much to learn about the chemistry of cooking as there is about creativity. A chef is not just a cook either. It takes more than flair with food. A good chef knows how to calculate quantities and costs in order to protect profit margins, manage a staff, and delight the diners. “Cooking is hard work,” says Chef Lester Locklear, “so you must love it enough to make the work worthwhile to you. You have to take pride in doing your job well. You must enjoy working as part of a team and be able to work under pressure.”
“It is important for aspiring chefs to know what good food tastes like,” says Chef Kendra Cummings. She recommends that students get experience in the kitchen of a high-quality restaurant as soon as possible, even if it’s just washing dishes.
Head chefs earn salaries of about $50,000 in North Carolina, on average.
Nationwide, approximately half of culinary graduates will go to work in restaurants, hotels, casinos or resorts. Other graduates may become corporate chefs, personal chefs or nutritionists. Locklear has noticed a rise in demand for research and development chefs for food manufacturers too. “Success will depend on your motivation, work ethic, and love of food, of course,” says Chef James Ingram. He adds, “Employment opportunities are good. All our graduates who want to work are working.”
The demand for local food is changing the culture; people are starting to think more about where their food comes from.
In 2010, Robeson Community College’s Culinary Program entered a partnership with the Green Zone to introduce students to the “Farm to Table” concept. The culinary faculty agreed to grow fresh organic vegetables, herbs, and spices used in the preparation of culinary dishes. To emphasize the Farm-to-Table concept, a course was added to the Culinary Arts program. The course highlights the pros and cons of organic versus conventional farming methods, and students are able to put their knowledge into practice in the Green Zone. The Green Zone has allowed students to practice seed germination, sapling transfer, composting, care, and harvest of mature food products. This innovative approach to the culinary process allows students to grow and prepare a fresh product. This beyond the classroom, beyond the kitchen approach provides students the opportunity to connect with the source of their profession, the farm.