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 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 while learning remotely, but will also be experts when they begin learning in CATEC’s commercial kitchen. In this unique 2020-2021 school year, students received tool kits so they can practice their hands-on learning at home. Tool kits included an apron, measuring cups, spatulas, cookie sheets, and knife sets. Students will be able to practice their technical skills from home and share their work with their instructors.
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, and even some localities, that require it to work in the food industry.” Returning students in the Culinary Arts II program, who are already ServSafe Food Handler-certified, have been studying for their ServSafe Manager credentialing. Culinary Arts Executive Chef Christina Rizzo says of the advanced certification, “It 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.
In October 2019, 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 learning space, CATEC Culinary Commons, a garden area that includes raised garden beds, a greenhouse, an outdoor dining area, and an indoor hydroponics garden. The organic produce grown in the gardens will be used by the program. Last year, the some of the microgreens grown in the Culinary Arts kitchen were given to a local restaurant.
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. Created as a schoolwide project, Technical Eats has traveled to different community events around Charlottesville, including the TomTom Festival, Dogwood Festival, Albemarle County’s 275th Anniversary celebration, and scheduled fundraising activities at Whole Foods.
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.