Edward "EJ" White, Andrea Wilson, Kyre Haynesworth (from left) at work in the kitchen.
Holly Herrick, one of the lead instructors for Thomas Nelson’s ChefsGO program, said most people don’t understand what it’s like working in a professional kitchen.
“The degree of physical labor just in a normal day, in a normal world, is intense,” she said.
Mix in a worldwide pandemic, and “the strain has been enormous.”
However, she’s feeling more confident than ever that the College’s Workforce Development program dedicated to the culinary arts eventually will be able to pick up where it left off last year.
“The main message is just optimism and faith,” she said.
Last year nine students were enrolled when the program was halted in late February after about five weeks of classroom instruction. In late summer coordinators decided to wait until this year to resume ChefsGO. The program provides 13 weeks in the classroom followed by a 13-week paid internship at an area restaurant.
Herrick, along with program founder Robin Carson and co-lead instructor Allison Patterson, stayed in contact with the students and chefs.
“It’s looking like all or most of them will be joining us for 2021,” Herrick said of the students. “That’s good.”
She expects the same high retention rate for the chefs.
“Several of our core players, two in particular, are very eager to reconnect and take on the mentorship role,” she said.
The classroom lessons the students got through last year dealt with basic techniques and understanding measuring, in addition to earning a CPR certificate.
“All the things you need to do for ordering and organization a professional kitchen,” Herrick said, adding some students have been able to find work in restaurants in the interim.
Despite the program's halting students continued honing some of their skills. One of their assignments was a culture-and-cuisine project, which involves researching a country’s food and cooking culture.
“A lot of the students have really dug into their research,” Herrick said. “Some of the dishes from India and Italy are sounding really delicious.”
Normally, the program starts in January or February, with the graduation ceremony in August. This time, the plan is to restart in August or September with the remaining classroom portions. In a twist of good fortune for the chefs involved and their restaurants, that would put the internship starting in October and lasting through Christmas.
“That’s prime holiday season and prime busy season for Williamsburg area kitchens,” Herrick said. “A couple of our mentor chefs are really chomping at the bit to get some warm bodies and culinary students in their kitchens. They’re just really excited about it.”
A few more details have to be ironed out and it depends on national, state and local health guidelines regarding the pandemic, note program coordinators. The program uses the kitchen at Warhill High School, so its availability will depend on when the school reopens to students.
But all involved in the program are optimistic.
“I think general overview is all systems go, with a few checkpoints,” said Herrick, who is particularly excited because she joined the program in January 2020 and hasn’t yet guided a class to graduation. “It’s looking promising for students and for the program. We have a lot of backing from Workforce (Development) and Eddie (Swain). … We’re looking forward to having a session in the fall, a full course, a full 26-week program.”
In addition to returning students, the program will accept new students for the fall session. For more information, contact Herrick (firstname.lastname@example.org), Carson (email@example.com) or Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org), or go to https://tncc.edu/programs/chefsgo-10-workforce-credential.