Kitchen Class

Posted on March 11, 2011 – 7:35 AM | by Admin
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By Sarah Singleton

I was so nervous. Sitting there, in a crowded kitchen classroom, waiting to see if I could be admitted to the class from the waiting list. Why was I doing this again – at 40, surrounded by kids just out of high school, many of whom had been enticed by the Food Network or the rock-and-roll lifestyle of Anthony Bourdain? The thought of getting back into a kitchen professionally both intrigued and repelled me. On the one hand, it sounds good to leave the 9-to-5 rat race and get creative again…on the other hand, I’ll be working 12-hour days, most of tthem spent on my feet. Burns on my hands and arms. An aching back. But it pulls me.

I’ll be honest. I started the program “just for fun.” I stupidly assumed that I was overqualified. But American River College’s culinary and hospitality management program is for real. The chef-instructors regard this program with the utmost seriousness, as do the students. Their aim is to get their graduates employed in the restaurant or baking industry, the same as culinary schools around the world—at a much more affordable price.

Most culinary schools command a hefty price tag of $30,000 or more, but the ARC Culinary Arts Program is the same price as any other community college course—just $26 per unit. If you qualify, you may be able to obtain financial aid or fee waivers. Thus, it leaves a young cook less likely to enter a rewarding, albeit low-paying, career with a mountain of debt.

The benefits are not only financial. According to Chef-Instructor Roxanne O’Brien and former student Bronwyn Sebesta, local restaurateurs actively seek out graduates of the ARC program, stating that they are often better-qualified and better-disciplined cooks.

Photo: Don Reid, from

All of ARC’s Culinary Arts cooking classes are hands-on. You’d better have your knives sharpened and your uniform ordered. The chef-instructors are local chefs: Chef Raymond Salladarre; a formidable French chef who was at the helm of the Firehouse Restaurant for many years, Chef Teresa Urkofsky;a mainstay of the Sacramento restaurant industry and most recently, owner of Babycakes cupcake bakery, Chef Roxanne O’Brien;former cheese monger and chef at Taylor’s market and owner of her own catering business, Chef Judy Parks; owner of Tarts and Truffles, department chair Brian Knirk; the expert on front-of-the-house and hospitality management. Between them they have over 100 years of experience.

Classes are also comprehensive. Beginners take knife skills, sanitation and food theory. From there the possibilities widen: beverage operations (a class on wine, beer and spirits), Mediterranean cooking, American regional cooking, garde manger (the “cold kitchen”—all manner of charcuterie, appetizers, dressings), baking (bread and pastry) and catering. For the more advanced students, there’s advanced baking for fine pastries, professional cooking, and working in the Oak Café—both the front and back of the house.

Another thing that sets the ARC program apart from other culinary schools is the focus on business. Supervisory and management skills, learning to control costs, marketing, law and financial accountability are all covered in this quick 18-month program, taught by experts in the field.

In addition to the on-staff instructors, ARC has been reaching out to the food community to help educate their students. Chef Roxanne reported that they had a cheese-maker come in for a demonstration and lesson, and there was another session with molecular gastronomy expert and high-end caterer Pajo Bruich.

The Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program has come a long way since the early days of American River College. Formerly known as “home economics”, the program’s focus was diet and nutrition and was very scientific, according to Trudy O’Brien, an instructional aide that has worked for the program since its early days. She described the former kitchen lab as “four separate kitchens, all with Formica counters, metal cabinets and little stoves”, much different than the stainless-steel commercial-grade facilities the kitchen classroom sports today. “There were barely enough students” Trudy said. Even as recently as ten years ago, enrollment was low, perhaps 60 students with only two full-time instructors.

What a difference a decade makes. Classes are full after the first week of registration. The waiting lists to get into classes are regularly 20 people deep. Registration is currently 400 with five full-time instructors and three full-time instructional aides. The kitchen classroom runs from 7AM to 10PM. six nights a week, according to J.D. Skidmore, dining room manager of the Oak Café.

On ARC’s wish list is an expanded facility that they hope will double the teaching capacity—including more classrooms, storage, conference space – and will transform the miniscule café into a larger venue that will include a full working restaurant. To raise money, the program offers full-service catering to the public, runs the Oak Café and Acorn Coffee and Sandwich Cart and hosts fundraising events. One upcoming event is the Autumn Gold, a foundation fundraiser that helps provide scholarships. It will be held on October 8, 2011 and will be catered by the Culinary Arts program.

I spent five semesters attending the ARC Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program. In that time, I’ve become confident. I learned a brunoise from a rough chop, how to poach a foie gras, how to make Morrocan pastry, how to de-bone a rabbit and make it into a terrine, and how to construct a menu and price items based on food cost, labor and production. I learned how to better pair wines with food. I learned food conversions and why it’s better to weigh your ingredients rather than measure them. I learned how to better supervise and direct people.

I was a fool to think I knew all there was to know about cooking, fine dining and how to run a business. And although I was not able to complete the program due to my daytime work obligations, I learned. I learned an awful lot. And even better, I became part of a community of people who care about sharing this invaluable information with others.

I am proud to have been an ARC Culinary Arts student.

Find out more by calling the department at (916) 484- 8656.

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