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Culinary Arts classes cook up interest
culinary arts pic
Chef Dale Robbins, center, and one of his students pose before their spread of appetizers and hors doeuvres to be served up for approximately 60 guests to complete their final in the Garde Manger course at the Stanislaus Culinary Arts Institute in Oakdale. - photo by DAWN HENLEY / The Journal

Preparing canapés for 80 isn’t such an easy task when the clock is ticking and newly learned skills are put to the test.

That’s what happened for a number of local area residents who recently completed their final in the flagship course “Garde Manger,” which is basically known as the “cold kitchen,” at the Stanislaus Culinary Arts Institute in Oakdale.

“We had a good response. People were excited to be there,” said Gene Womble, program coordinator for Columbia College in the Hospitality Management Program, which oversees the Culinary Arts program.

Chef Dale Robbins, an adjunct instructor, said that the class was 10 weeks and it consisted of learning the fundamentals of vegetable and fruit carving, making appetizers, canapés, sauces, patés, salads, tray presentation, and buffet.

“It was fun,” he said, noting that the group was very engaged. “Everybody in this class was there to learn, very positive energy.”

Lisa Ballard, a secretary at one of Oakdale’s elementary schools, took the course and agreed that the course was fun and offered her a chance to learn some new techniques in the kitchen.

The class met one night a week and in each class everyone had to bring a paring knife and work on knife skills. The type of students ranged from high school to retirement age, Chef Robbins said, adding that some were seeking skills for entry-level jobs, some to impress friends and loved ones, and others are future chefs.

For the students’ midterm, they had to create a shopping list and an approved appetizer or hors d’oeuvre for a buffet. They also made a portion or serving of the food item to show how it would be plated and garnished.

The final consisted of preparing the appetizers and hors d’oeuvres buffet for 80 people with 90 minutes to prepare and then serve.

“That way, they feel the pressure of being in a commercial kitchen,” Robbins said of putting the time limit on the students.

He reported that feeling the pressure of the last hour is an everyday thing in a kitchen and time management is important.

“In a kitchen, once you’re behind, you’re behind,” he said.

The students invited friends, family, and other school personnel, of which there were about 60 attendees, to the final to enjoy the culinary treats.

Robbins noted that a certificate for classes is currently a work in progress and that the type of certificate that would be issued is being determined.

“We absolutely welcome any comments, any questions,” Womble said of the new facility and its offerings. “We also welcome people to come and visit.”

He noted that along with an eventual certificate, they’d like to continue offering additional courses as well.

The next class will be in the spring, a beginning baking class where students will learn the fundamentals of commercial baking. Robbins noted that baking is a science because it’s chemistry in action. Students will learn to bake breads, pastries, cookies, pies, and learn how to use machinery in a production kitchen. He said that after the class, they’ll know what a Hobart mixer is and will also feel the pressure of the last hour.

The Introduction to Commercial Baking course will run Jan. 8 through May 4 on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 10:25 p.m. Womble suggested applicants sign up right away on the Columbia College website, but students will be accepted until the class fills. He further noted that since they are a community college, it’s open access to whoever wishes to enroll. Robbins reported that he had a lot of interest expressed about the baking class from students in the Garde Manger class.

“People that want to come through the program ought to be able to get a job in a commercial kitchen,” Robbins said of the upcoming course.

Chef Robbins added that the baking course will also have a final that requires an approved dish and a limited amount of time to prepare it in order to imitate the time pressures in a commercial kitchen.

The culinary arts program is American Culinary Federation accredited. Robbins said that if job applicants have an ACF education, it means more. He added that the standards are very high.

For questions or more information about the program, contact Womble at 588-5135.