The College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, is expanding its culinary arts education program, elevating the current one-year certificate offering to a two-year associate degree program.

Targeted for completion in the fall 2014, with the first round of classes offered spring semester 2015, the $8 million Institute for Culinary Education (iCuE) will tender a new 12,000 square foot facility, with four working kitchens—focused on sweets, savory, banquet, and demonstration—a chocolate room, and a wine studies lab. A patio, complete with wood-burning oven, will be used for instruction and to host events for the campus and local communities.

Since it's housed at a community college, the cost of attending Canyon’s iCuE is an affordable $46 per unit for California residents, averaging $5,000 annually for full-time students—a very different model than the cost of attending a private culinary school. The current certificate program has proved so popular that waiting lists are overflowing, and culinary classes are held off campus at a leased restaurant.

“With the buildings we currently have, we haven’t been able to grow,” notes Bruce Battle, managing director, District Communications and Marketing, Santa Clarita Community College District. “The demand is huge for this program—all the classes are filled and there are long waiting lists to take classes. With the new permanent facility, enrollment will explode.”

An added benefit, notes Battle, is that culinary students can easily get to their core classes, without having to go back and forth between campus and the off-site cooking facilities.

Focused on a farm-to-table philosophy that stresses fresh food, the curriculum will also impart the importance of basic skills—knife skills, culinary math, etc., explains Cindy Schwanke, lead culinary arts faculty member.

 “All of our faculty have years of experience in the industry,” says Schwanke. “They are all passionate about paying it forward and teaching the younger generation professionalism, good work ethics, and, of course, how to cook.”

The plan is to also offer satellite classes for non-matriculated local residents, who can “come in and do a three-hour soft class on de-boning, for example,” says Schwanke. “We want people to know where their food comes from, and how to cook at home.”

While the school doesn’t purport to compete with the Culinary Institute of Americawhich is “the standard,” says Schwanke"we do use the CIA book, the same book all the culinary schools use. We basically teach the same things.”

Adds Schwanke, “I would put my faculty up against any faculty out there. What we are looking to teach here is more than just cooking skills; we also want to train professionals. You could be a great cook but a bad employee. There’s a lot more to learning how to be a professional chef than how to braise protein.”

By Joann Whitcher 

Industry News, Philanthropy