(May 6, 2022) – When it comes to acquiring real-world experience while learning a new career, it’s impossible to find anything more instructive and life-changing that the Culinary Arts program at Alamance Community College.
Here students have options to earn multiple credentials—including an Associate in Applied Science degree—that pave the way for high-paying careers in the food industry. Prospective students do not need any prior work experience or culinary ability. They start with the basics and learn everything needed during the two-year program to graduate with the knowledge needed to become a top-quality chef. ACC credits also apply toward pursuit of a bachelor degree in Culinary Science at Johnson and Wales University and NC State University.
Since its earnest beginnings in the late 1970s, Alamance Community College’s Culinary Arts program has incorporated a rigorous and disciplined curriculum to provide the highest quality training available. Students have competed regionally and nationally against other top-tier programs. As recently as 2018, ACC’s Hot Foods Team was awarded a silver medal at the American Culinary Federation national championship in New Mexico.
The success of the Culinary Arts program—both in competitions and job placement–prompted a $1.1 million Culinary Arts Expansion Project, completed in summer 2021, that renovated 5,000 square feet to produce a specialized state-of-the art production kitchen and dining room. This reimagined space simulates the preparation and serving environments culinary graduates will experience when they enter the workforce.
“Our new space gives students a true real world experience, not only in the classroom but also in work-based training opportunities,” said Brian Bailey, Department Head for Culinary Arts. “Our students host and serve various community groups, corporate board meetings and the like in our new dining room. It gives them lots of practical experience before they get out into their professional culinary careers.”
“Giving culinary students an opportunity to work in this environment is unique. It really ties all the culinary coursework together, putting it into practice in a fast-paced environment,” added Justin Snyder, Dean of Applied Engineering, Agriculture and Skilled Trades.
While the expansion project was long needed, the lack of such a space was not a hindrance to the success of Culinary Arts students, most of whom annually find excellent jobs as chefs in fine dining restaurants and country clubs beyond Alamance County. In 2017, the College presented its Distinguished Alumni Award to graduate Travis Gunter, who has worked as an executive chef at high-end restaurants across the southeast, including Sous-Chef at Bravo/Brio Restaurant in New Orleans.
All students in ACC’s Culinary Arts program gain real-world experience in a variety of activities throughout their two years at the college. One of those is cooking and serving culinary creations at MerleFest, the annual bluegrass music festival that brings thousands of music and foodie fans to Wilkesboro, NC over a four-day weekend each spring.
“Our students get terrific experience at Merlefest,” said Bailey. “Not only do they get to interact with customers, but also see the importance of food sanitation regulations as a health inspector inspects our booth four or five times a day. Our students’ education never stops even while we’re having fun doing it. It’s a great teachable event.”
“ACC’s involvement with MerleFest provides a perfect culmination of taking students from learning to application in a way that promotes their culinary and business skills,” said Dr. Lisa Johnson, Vice President of Instruction at ACC.
Merlefest serves as the biggest moneymaker for ACC’s Culinary Arts Club. It has financed cultural education experiences for the students at fine dining restaurants and even trips to Europe to explore the international food industry and vineyards.
“My view for our students has always been: If they don’t see anything different, they don’t know what they don’t know. So that’s why our program takes them to these events, it’s why our students serve the guests at both private and public events,” said Bailey.
Now that the food industry is recovering from the massive hit it took during the worst of the pandemic, a Culinary Arts degree from Alamance Community College is a smart choice.
“I cannot emphasize enough how great a time this is right now to get into the culinary industry,” said Bailey. “High quality restaurants and country clubs are still operating, they are paying top dollar, and providing full benefits. My phone here at ACC has been ringing off the hook with managers needing well-trained chefs once again. And our program provides that training.”
For information about ACC’s Culinary Arts program, call 336-506-4274.