Cottonwood Shores culinary school serves up hospitality workforce

The first graduating class of the culinary arts program prepared dishes toward their final exam on March 8 at Saucy’s Catering in Cottonwood. Pictured are graduates Marissa Carrillo (left) and Lindsay Parker, chef and course instructor Luciana McKeown of Saucy’s Catering, and students Shadow Crouch, Josh Yocum and Manuel Bravo. Courtesy photo

The first graduating class of the culinary arts program prepared dishes toward their final exam on March 8 at Saucy’s Catering in Cottonwood. Pictured are graduates Marissa Carrillo (left) and Lindsay Parker, chef and course instructor Luciana McKeown of Saucy’s Catering, and students Shadow Crouch, Josh Yocum and Manuel Bravo. Courtesy photo

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

COTTONWOOD SHORES —  Creating a tasty whiskey tarragon sauce could very well launch Josh Yocum’s career as a future chef.

Yocum and four other students were the first graduating class March 8 of a culinary arts program that offers free tuition through Central Texas College for individuals trying to enter new career fields.

He said he joined the class, paid for by a Texas Workforce Commission grant, “to continue learning and to be able to apply for a job.

“I was cooking before. I just wanted to further my knowledge,” Yocum said. “It filled in a lot of gaps.”

On graduation day, the students cooked items for their final exam and coordinators of the program invited the public to sample their creations at Saucy’s Catering, 4005 RR 2147 West.

“Their dish is them on a plate, so they’re getting to express themselves through the dish they created,” said chef and course instructor Luciana McKeown, who owns Saucy’s.

“It was very rewarding, seeing them learn something they’ve never done before,” she said. “They’ve just grown so much from day one until now.”

The Mikey West Career Assets Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Marble Falls, initiated the grant process with the Texas Workforce Commission, resulting in $208,000 toward training and course funding for 78 students through the end of 2016.

Students can register through Central Texas College for course work as certified nurse aides, certified medical assistants, administrative assistants and the culinary program.

Courses debuted in August 2015 and graduated 24 students in the medical and administrative programs.

The most recent basic food preparation class of the culinary arts program started in January.

“Much of our economy is based on the hospitality industry,” said Career Assets founder Gail Davalos. “The culinary program was a request directly from the area employers to help fill high-demand, hard-to-fill jobs.”

McKeown joined the effort to offer her expertise as a chef and make a difference in the community.

“I love teaching cooking, so I feel like I’m doing my part to contribute to the workforce. There is a big need for cooks here,” sge said. “We’re getting them trained so they can go into the culinary industry.”

As many as 16 more students in all facets of the Career Assets-supported program are expected to graduate in the spring and summer.

“We’re recruiting for the next culinary class, which we’ll start as soon as we have from 10 to 12 students in the class,” Davalos said. “It brings the training right here to our citizens locally because they’re all working and having to make a living and raise a family, and it’s a quality education.”

The program is also seeking enrollees for the certified nurse’s aide, certified medical assistant and administrative assistant categories.

Along with the grant funding, individuals can sponsor students and offer donations to the Career Assets program, which provides technical skills and job placement assistance to the students.

“It’s very beneficial. It gives you almost everything you need to start off in the culinary industry, whether it’s management or in the kitchen,” culinary course graduate Shadow Crouch said. “Hopefully, it will be expanded, so you can actually have 30 or 40 people in a class like this. It’s a good industry to get into.”

To find out more about the program and courses, call (830) 265-8024 or (254) 526-1224.

For more information, go to ctcd.edu and search for Texas Workforce Commission grants.

connie@thepicayune.com

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