Aspiring chefs take advantage of Hinds Community College’s culinary program
Students at Hinds Community College’s Vicksburg campus are cooking up a storm.
Starting from scratch two years ago, the school’s culinary arts program has grown to include nearly 90 students between its high school and college programs.
“We have high school kids here every day,” said Matthew Campbell, the department chair for the culinary program at the Vicksburg campus. “When they graduate, they can take my classes, which are at night, which are postsecondary. We’ve got baking classes, Garde Manger, which is the cold kitchen stuff, we have American regional cooking, international cuisine, cooking principals one and two, pretty much everything.”
Campbell, who attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and worked at a variety of restaurants in Jackson before starting at Hinds, oversees a robust program that includes three cohorts of college students and high school students working on the basics of cooking.
“We take in students every August and we take in students every December,” Campbell said. “It is three semesters until you get your technical and four until you get your associates. We are always pumping out students and I am always on the phone trying to land people jobs and place former students.”
College students attend culinary classes for three semesters and then receive a technical degree, or they can choose to take English, a humanities class, a social science class and a speaking class during a fourth semester to complete their associates.
High school students have the opportunity to take level 1 and level 2 classes, which open the doors for entry-level jobs at restaurants by giving them the basic skills needed to be successful.
“They are learning everything from safety and sanitation to the basic principles of culinary and getting them acclimated to being in a commercial kitchen and allowing them to bring out their inner chef,” Cedric Lilley, the culinary instructor for secondary education, said. “It gives them an idea of what actual chefs go through on a day-to-day basis although it is done in a very small setting. The kids are seeing what they would experience once they get in the industry.”
College students take classes in everything from baking and menu planning to nutrition and safety.
“Some people do catering and some people work the front of the house believe it or not,” Campbell said. “We have a couple front of the house classes on how to be a waiter or a hostess. A lot of times, people work in restaurants around town. The casinos are a big hirer. They hire a lot of our students.”
The culinary program started two years ago and currently includes about 45 students in the college program and 38 in the high school program. They are currently confined to one kitchen classroom, but Campbell said they have plans in the future to take over the conjoining classrooms to expand the operation.
“I feel like I am getting people and students who struggle academically and they really have their chance to shine,” Campbell said. “They can really find something they are good at and find their niche. It is beneficial to get a job.
“It is filling the skills gap, which exists in Vicksburg. There are a lot of jobs that are open, but not a lot of people have the education.”
The culinary students also work as a catering service on campus and recently prepared the food for the groundbreaking that was held for the new building on Hinds’ campus.