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Cooking up a career in the culinary arts

Scallops au gratin. Cream of butternut squash soup with pot stickers. Panko-crusted salmon cakes served with Dijon dill dipping sauce.

Those are just some of the tasty concoctions students in Tidewater Community College’s culinary arts program whip up in preparation for a healthy job market that includes restaurants, cruise ships, spas, catering companies, adventure parks and more.

“Almost every place people come together, there is a need for food service,” said Professor Don Averso, coordinator for the TCC program since 2005. “Usually students are placed in jobs before they graduate.”

student working on a tasty salad

​TCC’s culinary arts department, established in 1996, is accredited by the American Culinary Association. Graduates who maintain a student membership in the AFC will automatically be awarded the first industry-level certification of Certified Culinarian.

The program is offered only at the Norfolk Campus; however, non-kitchen lab classes may be taken at any campus offering such courses. After all kitchen lab classes are complete, students enroll in the Cooperative Education Internship class, which requires them to work in a food service facility for 240 hours. The positions are paid.

TCC students come in well prepared.

“We provide a really solid foundation in educating culinary students,” Averso said. “We try to keep them in classrooms as little as possible – all courses are on Blackboard – so students have maximum time in the kitchens.”

Students broaden their experience via projects and competitions. Every year students create a holiday gingerbread house village showcased at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“It really allows students to get creative,” Averso said. “Everything they put on the house has to be edible, forcing them to think outside the box.”

Students in HRI 206 receive a lesson in kosher cooking, culminating in preparing a kosher luncheon at a Norfolk temple. Students in HRI 256 cater at least two events per semester. For the last four years, TCC students have gone up against schools including the Culinary Institute of Virginia and the Art Institute in a 12-team timed competition that required students to prepare three courses with a mystery protein and present two plates. The Virginia Beef Council hosts an internal competition that has each student prepare a dish from the same cut of beef.

culinary students work around a stove

“Everything we do is driven by the opportunity to make our students learn,” Averso said.

Some 430 students are enrolled in culinary arts at TCC, which offers a quality education at a rate that is far more affordable than traditional culinary school.

“Our students come out with a degree and less financial burden,” Averso said. “Students coming out are getting jobs.”

Department of Labor statistics show that culinary arts is a promising field for employment. The TCC program has experienced a growth rate of 20 percent annually.

“All of a sudden, cooking and food have been spotlighted with celebrity chefs and the Food Network, so we see growth every year,” Averso said. “We have a diverse group of students; some have had no formal training. Students can come in here knowing nothing and prepare for a dynamic career.”