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From TCC to head chef at Aldo’s in Virginia Beach

Steven Dunbar remembers a time when he was playing a pick-up game of basketball near Old Dominion University. Between shots, the guys he was with were talking about their college classes.

“That day is still so clear because I always wanted to go to college and there I was being reminded again,” Dunbar said.

Soon after, the 51-year-old enrolled at Tidewater Community College to pursue his Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts.

“I was on cloud nine when I started at TCC. I loved school all the way down to my book bag,” he said with a laugh.

Steven Dunbar at work at Aldo’s Ristorante.

Dunbar is no stranger to commercial kitchens, as he has worked at Aldo’s Ristorante, a well-known Virginia Beach restaurant, for close to three decades. He started at the bottom and has worked every job in the kitchen.

“The culinary side of my education let me know that even with all my years of experience, there was a ton I didn’t know,” Dunbar said. “The chefs at TCC shared their professional experiences and made sure we learned every skill and concept.”

Dunbar says he looked at other culinary schools but found TCC to be the most economical option with the same accredited curriculum.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning continued with at-home and in-person labs.

“Learning that you can meet deadlines is pretty gratifying and looking back and saying, ‘Yes! I did that,’ just feels so good,” Dunbar said. “If I could speak to students coming after me, my message is finish what you start. It’s never too late to accomplish your goals.”

This May, Dunbar’s earns his associate degree and his perseverance will be celebrated during TCC’s virtual commencement to be held on May 10 at 6 p.m. He is one of the selected students to share words of encouragement with classmates during the ceremony.

Thanks in part to his degree, Dunbar was recently made head chef at Aldo’s. He now gives back by inviting TCC students to complete required externship hours in his kitchen.

“There were times in my math and computer classes when I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said. “But here I stand. A more well-rounded individual with the degree I always wanted. I couldn’t be prouder to be a TCC grad!”

TCC’s May 2021 grads can still buy regalia through the Virginia Beach Campus and MacArthur Center Barnes and Noble at TCC. Family, friends and community supporters are encouraged to share messages with graduates at 

From TCC to Sous-Chef at one of the best chop houses in Chesapeake

Many of Tidewater Community College’s certificate programs and associate degrees lead to immediate employment or, in some cases, employment while you’re still in college. We feature these on an occasional basis in our series “From here, go to work.” Here’s a look at one option.

TCC alum now a kitchen problem-solver

Brett Wellington dreamed of a career in zoology. But instead, he is taming a commercial kitchen with the skills he gained with his culinary degree.

“I was in college studying zoology and environmental engineering when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I left school to take care of her and spent a lot of my time preparing meals. I found out quickly that I was pretty good at it, and I really enjoyed it,” Wellington said.

After the passing of his mother, Darlene, Wellington, 26, returned to school with a new goal. He chose TCC’s Culinary Arts program because it was affordable and close to home.

Hands-on learning in a real kitchen

Brett Wellington in the TCC kitchens.
Brett Wellington in the TCC kitchens.

Right from the start, Wellington enjoyed working in the TCC kitchens alongside his classmates and with culinary instructors who have real-world experience.

One of them is Chef Deanna Freridge.

“Chef Dee is my idol,” Wellington said with a laugh. “But seriously, the chef instructors at TCC are all personable, and they will work with you on a real level. They don’t just teach you to cook; they go well beyond the textbook and prepare you for work in the fast-paced, high-pressure environment that is a commercial kitchen.”

Students learn knife skills, sauces and how to prepare different cuisines and how to bake. They also learn important kitchen management skills, including sanitation and safety, food purchasing, nutrition, food and beverage cost control, and recipe and menu management.

Wellington landed his job at The Butcher’s Son while in culinary school and worked his way through every station in the kitchen.

“It was helpful getting on-the-job training while still being in school,” he said. “I would not have known how to do the food ordering or pricing without my time at TCC.”

After earning his Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts in May 2019, Wellington was given the position of Sous-Chef. Today he is considered the kitchen problem solver. He is second-in-command and works directly under the Executive Chef. He handles inventory, creates daily specials, prices menu items and ensures that the kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine.

Accreditation ensures a quality education

TCC’s associate degree is accredited by The American Culinary Federation (ACF). TCC culinary graduates who maintain a student membership in the ACF are automatically awarded the first industry-level certification, which is Certified Culinarian.

“Most of my colleagues were trained at the costly, for-profit schools in the area,” Wellington said. “What I know is that from day one, I’ve had the skills and held my own in every area of the kitchen.”

Finding love and adventure along the way

Wellington with Gabrielle Lozano.
Wellington with Gabrielle Lozano.

Wellington launched his career from TCC, but he also found love. His girlfriend, Gabrielle Lozano, also graduated with her culinary degree and is now a chef at The Stockpot in Norfolk. The couple travels abroad and recently did a European food tour tasting national dishes from several places.

Find out more

Do you have a passion for food? Learn from expert faculty chefs who combine practical experience and academic perspective in all course work and integrate computer applications in all classes.

TCC’s Culinary Arts program is offered on the Norfolk Campus. For more information, contact Chef Don Averso at