Culinary Arts

September is National Food Safety Month and Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center’s (CATEC) Culinary Arts program is working hard this month to get its students certified in industry-recognized food safety programs. The ServSafe food safety certifications, created for the National Restaurant Association, focus on personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, safe food preparation, food safety procedures, and recently added COVID-19 safety precautions.

This training ensures that students are prepared to practice their developing culinary skills in CATEC’s commercial kitchen. Culinary Arts I students began the school year learning about food safety through their ServSafe Food Handler training. Culinary Arts Instructor Josh Davis says, “It is very important for the Culinary I students to learn the basics of food safety and receive the Food Handler certification because there are many restaurants that require it to work in the food industry.” Returning students in the Culinary Arts II program, who are already ServSafe Food Handler-certified, will study for their ServSafe Manager credentialing throughout the school year. Culinary Arts Executive Chef Christina Rizzo says the advanced certification “verifies that a person-in-charge has food safety knowledge to protect the public from foodborne illness. By receiving a Manager certificate, our Culinary Arts II students will be able to further themselves in the foodservice industry and be prepared to take a management position.”

The two-year CATEC Culinary Arts program prepares students for work as chefs/cooks, bakers/pastry helpers, pastry decorators, dietic assistants, food demonstrators, and work in the hospitality industry. Students can earn up to 17 college credits through CATEC’s dual-enrollment agreement with Piedmont Virginia Community College. Students earning college credit study principles of culinary arts, sanitation and safety, nutrition for food science, preparations of stocks, soups, sauces, fruits, vegetables, and starches, and principles of baking.

Students can easily transition to PVCC’s Culinary Arts program. This post-secondary program blends professional and technical courses with hands-on training. The 67-credit program allows students to graduate with an Associate of Applied Science. Graduates will be able to enter the workforce as chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, or personal chefs in restaurants, hotels, resorts, or country clubs. Nationally, including Virginia, prospective students in the culinary industry can expect job growth.

For the 2021-2022 school year CATEC is excited to announce that it is offering academic integration into the Culinary Arts program. CATEC English teacher Megan Panek is pushing in to Culinary Arts classes to offer English 10 and English 11 as part of their culinary experience. Students enrolled in these English classes receive full English credit along with their Culinary Arts credit, doing all the normal culinary, but supplement their time with English studies. These students read culinary-based non-fiction, memoirs, and fiction, and essays rooted in the culinary world and practice their writing skills based around their culinary experiences. 

A few years ago, the program received a grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation’s Environmental Education Stewardship Grants Program. Culinary Arts is using the grant for its new outdoor space, CATEC Culinary Commons, a garden area that includes raised garden beds, an outdoor dining area, and an indoor hydroponics garden. The organic produce grown in the gardens will be used by the program. In 2020, MSC Apartments installed herb beds in partnership with United Way Day of Caring.

Additionally, CATEC is continuing to collaborate to form local partnerships. In spring 2021, Siller Pollinator Company installed two bee hives on CATEC property to not only improve local bee populations, but also provide the Culinary Arts program with honey. Cultivate Charlottesville has begun preparing land to move its community garden program to CATEC property in spring 2022. The Culinary Arts program will benefit from the garden produce as well.

The Culinary Arts program has also begun a new partnership within Albemarle County Public Schools. Albemarle High School’s junior varsity and varsity football coach David Topper is working with the Culinary Arts program to offer healthy meals to his football players for away games. He is making sure players receive nutritious meals for their 10 away games. The Culinary Arts program will make boxed meals that contain a sandwich or wrap, chips, fruit, and a cookie. Topper has dubbed these meals “Pre-Game Proteins for Patriots” and the Culinary Arts program is excited to work with the football program.

In 2017, the Culinary Arts program launched its food bus, Technical Eats, which allows students to prepare and serve food outside of the CATEC building, getting to interact with the public and have the practice of working in a fast-paced environment. Created as a schoolwide project, Technical Eats has traveled to different community events in Charlottesville, including the TomTom Festival, Dogwood Festival, Albemarle County’s 275th Anniversary celebration, and scheduled fundraising activities at Whole Foods. For the second year, Technical Eats! will be set up in the CATEC parking lot once a month to sell lunch items to the public. Last year’s experience was a great success and built new relationships with local schools and the community.

CATEC is a regional technical education center that helps high school students and adults obtain the jobs they seek. Students have opportunities to practice hands-on and work-based learning activities alongside academically-driven curricula. CATEC prides itself on its built-in value, equity-based programs, and contribution to students' learning journeys.