By Steve Koehler
Students in Ozarks Technical Community College’s culinary arts program are cooking up a great future for themselves in addition to elevating the program one of the 10 most popular offered at the College.
The two-year program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation and has more than 180 students enrolled in culinary arts and hospitality management. The program also offers a baking certificate for those who want to study cake making and decorating, European pastry making along with yeast and quick-bread making.
The program offers students a chance to gain a meaningful education in culinary arts that allows them to find employment fairly quickly.
Lisa Gardner, interim division chair of Hospitality and Culinary Arts at the College, said in addition to the quality of the program the College offers, there are two other reasons for the surge in students wanting to enter the culinary arts program.
“There are a lot of cooking shows nowadays and the country in general has promoted the culinary arts,” Gardner said, adding that the College is filling the need for workers in culinary arts and hospitality management.
“This is workforce development in that there is a large pool of employers, over 400 restaurants in the area. There are plenty of opportunities out there. Several students have gone to work at the new Hilton hotel in Branson.”
Gardner said about 70 percent of the students in the program are majoring in both programs, giving them more flexibility when it comes to looking for work.
Students also gain real-world experience in the student-operated Scallions restaurant that is open one day a week. Some students cook the dishes in the kitchen while others work as wait staff serving customers.
Julie Viorel of Springfield, who started in the program last year, already has a business degree and is working on her baking certificate in addition to taking the culinary classes.
“I’ve always enjoyed the culinary arts. It’s something I’m very comfortable with. I wanted to take my skills up to the next level. The classes are fun. There’s a lot of camaraderie; everyone works together well,” Viorel said.
Viorel is considering opening a café when she finishes her studies at the College.
“I enjoy coming to school here. With the reputation OTC has, I knew this would be a good fit for what I wanted to do in the future, she said.
Michael Greinke, a second-year student from Springfield, learned his early cooking skills from his parents, who operate the Galloway Station Bar and Grill.
“I’ve always loved to cook. I decided to go here because I heard that heard they had a great program. Cooking is a passion for me. I just really want to learn,” he said.
Greinke, who would like to eventually open a restaurant in Greece where his family is from, said he looks forward to classes at the College.
“Everyday, I come to school I get to cook and eat. I get fed. I get very excited,” he said.
Vivian Taylor, originally from Chicago and a second-year culinary student, got her cooking experience feeding her five children.
Fried chick, baked macaroni, fried catfish and spaghetti are her best dishes but the first-generation student said she wants to learn more and eventually open a Caribbean-Soul Food restaurant.
“I enjoy cooking. I knew before I moved here that I wanted to attend a school for culinary arts. I had heard a lot of nice things about OTC. I wanted to learn different things, styles and techniques,” Taylor said.
“I’m glad I came here. I’ve had great instructors and I met great people. I love it here,” Taylor said.
Steve Koehler is coordinator of publications at Ozarks Technical Community College.
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Phone: (417) 447-2666