The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Staff Writer 

Community College Cooks Up Culinary Class – Brevard NC


Chef Greg Spencer, seen here at Mayberry’s Foods Commercial Kitchen on North Caldwell Street in Brevard, is leading most of the new culinary courses for Blue Ridge Community College. (Times photos by Derek McKissock)

A new culinary program at Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) hopes to give local students a jump-start in their careers in the food service industry.

The Blue Ridge Culinary Institute will officially launch this fall, with all classes being held in Transylvania County. The program comes just months after the introduction of BRCC’s Craft Beer Academy.

Ben Kish, director of Workforce Training Development for BRCC, said the culinary program originated much in the same way the beer academy did, with a large demand for a new crop of employees from an industry that previously had nowhere to recruit people with the necessary skills.

“In our area there is such an interest in entertainment, hospitality, tourism,” Kish said. “It’s all here, and in talking with a lot of restaurateurs, they would like some help in getting people prepared to work in the industry.”

The culinary institute is part of BRCC’s continuing education program.

Students taking culinary courses are not on track to receive a degree. Rather, they take courses to learn new skills, improve on their trade and bolster their personal resumes.

“The idea is not so much to get a degree,” Kish said. “It’s to learn specific skills that help people move up if they’re in the industry or if you’re in some other field and you’d like to transfer. This gives you those skills.

Culinary courses run the gamut of the food service industry. Some classes, such as professional baking and pastry or commercial stocks, soups and salads, deal with food preparation and give students the practical skills needed to succeed.

Other courses, such as introduction to catering or purchasing for food service, teach students how to price food, organize a kitchen and order ingredients.

The program isn’t just aimed at those preparing food. It offers a server training course that provides the necessary skills for restaurant wait staff.

There is also a two-day ServSafe course that prepares employees for the ServSafe Food Protection Management Certification Exam.

ServSafe is a program administered by the National Restaurant Association and outlines what managers must know, in regards to handling food and food safety laws. Effective this Jan. 1, restaurants are required by law to have at least one ServSafe certified manager be on duty at all time.

Blue Ridge also plans to offer one-night personal enrichment courses, where members of the public can come learn a new cooking technique or a new dish, before cooking at the end of the evening.

Greg Spencer, a chef who formerly worked with the culinary program at Schenck Job Corps, will be heading up most of the culinary courses. Laurie Bakke, a Hendersonville-based restaurateur and author of several cookbooks, will also be presiding over some classes.

There are no pre-requisite courses a student has to complete before taking any of the culinary courses. The cost of each course also covers food and any materials.

Kish said, so far, the culinary program had been one of the most asked about courses offered by BRCC.

He hoped the program would go on to emulate the success of the beer academy, which Kish said had seen many students go on to find jobs in the brewing industry.

“(Culinary classes) are probably the number one requested category of classes that we’re getting in the continuing education program,” he said. “I have a feeling it could be as big, if not bigger, than what’s going on with the craft beer academy.”

A major component of the culinary institute is BRCC’s partnership with Mayberry’s restaurant.

The collaboration between the two began in February when Jonathan and Kelli McLeod, owners of Mayberry’s, won the Transylvania County Economic Advisory Board’s fourth annual business development contest.

The McLeods won the contest based on their proposal for a community kitchen that would serve as a place for them to produce and bottle their own line of sauces, as well as provide a space for businesses and members of the community to make products or learn more about the food industry.

Kelli said Gary Heisey, director of BRCC’s small business center and a member of the evaluation committee that voted for the winner of the contest, first approached Kish about the possibility of using the community kitchen for culinary classes.

When Kish spoke to her about the potential partnership, Kelli said she never imagined there would be such demand from the community for the kitchen space.

“It’s amazing how many people have been interested in using the kitchen,” she said. “We had no idea it would be like that when we started the project.”

The kitchen is located on Caldwell Street in Brevard beside Charlie’s Tire Center. Jonathan said he designed the layout to be teachable and included five prep tables for students and one table up front for the instructor.

Culinary program student Richard Grauer stands in front of the kitchen’s stove and various ovens.

“All the equipment is ready to go,” Jonathan said. “Whether it’s mixers, blenders, confection ovens, range tops, we’ve got the whole bit.”

While the culinary courses for this fall will only be available in Transylvania County, Kish said if the program is successful, it could be expanded to Henderson County. Kish also said BRCC would look into offering more advanced culinary courses down the road.

“The only thing we ask is for the courses that are work-related, you come ready to learn new skills,” Kish said. “For the (personal enrichment) courses, all we ask if you come hungry, because we’re going to make some food.”

For more information about BRCC’s Culinary Institute, call 883-2520 or email Cecile Duval at [email protected]


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