Student chefs simmer toward fresh future

During lunch dining hours for Texas State Technical College’s student-operated restaurant, culinary arts director and executive chef Mark Schneider observes as fifth-semester student Rachel Hill prepares food for customer orders in the main kitchen along with fifth-semester students Mario Trevino and Cristine Chavez.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff writer

Students enrolled in the culinary arts program at Texas State Technical College are skilled. Need proof? One meal at the school’s restaurant will have your taste buds convinced.

The Texas State Technical College Culinary Arts Restaurant serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays during the fall and spring semesters and Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer.

Students plan, prepare and execute the meals served at the restaurant, which can seat about 120 people.

This restaurant course, however, is just the capstone to a rigorous five-semester degree plan in which students graduate with an associate degree in culinary arts.

Students complete a variety of other courses, including classes on international cuisines, baking, pastries, nutrition, cost controls and safety and sanitation.

Chef Mark Schneider, director of the culinary arts program, said he student graduates are well prepared to work in the industry.

During lunch dining hours for Texas State Technical College’s student-operated restaurant, fourth-semester student Rudy Frett and fifth-semester student Rachel Hill prepare desserts for restaurant customers.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

“We really look to try to be the cornerstone of what students need to build into becoming an executive chef,” Schneider said. “We really want to make sure our students get in and get out into the industry and start working. Not only is that good for them, but it’s good for Texas; we want to be a value-added program for Texas.”

The program has about 230 students enrolled, but Schneider said that number would be larger if the current building had the capacity.

“We’re busting at the seams with students and it’s kind of a good problem to have,” he said.

The solution to this problem has come in the form of a new culinary arts building, which has begun construction just across from the old building and is scheduled to be complete in November.

Schneider said the new building will have three culinary lab kitchens, larger dining room seating and technologically advanced classrooms, among many other things. This new building will allow enrollment to reach 350 students, with classes scheduled to begin next January.

Many factors can be attributed to the program’s growing enrollment, including the economy, said Chef Len Pawelek, an instructor for the culinary arts program.

“Nowadays with the economy being slow, people are going back to school and want a rather quick specific training that gets them out and gets them a job,” Pawelek said. “That’s what one of our missions is, to get people trained and get them out there and get a job. That’s really where we put our focus.”

Students can expect to find a wide array of job options once they graduate from the culinary arts program.

“There’s always a job in culinary arts. It might not be the grandest culinary arts job in the world, we include everyone from a hot dog vendor to the executive chef for the White House in our industry, so it’s a huge range of job opportunities,” Schneider said. “A lot of people see a chef’s job as nights and weekends and holidays, but universities have chefs, banks have chefs, Exxon Mobil even has a chef.”

Rudy Frett, a Waco second-year culinary student, said he was hooked after taking dual credit courses in the culinary program his senior year of high school. Frett was overcome by a huge smile and a loss of words when trying to explain his passion for cooking.

“Being in the back of the kitchen, you can make the perfect steak and send it out to the customer,” Frett said. “Just seeing the face [of] the customer when they taste it is good to the heart. It’s hard to explain; it’s just something that feels good to you.”

Frett has one more semester to complete before graduating. He has still not decided on what type of chef’s job he would like, but knows he has many opportunities ahead.

“I got a job offer for a cruise ship, so I was considering that,” he said. “But my mom and dad also want me to open up my own business, so it’s a little up in the air right now. I have to consider what’s better for my future.”