Chef J. Thompson instructs a meat trimming class at the Culinary School at Hocking College.

Cooking up a career

Hospitality and food service is one of the fastest growing industries, particularly in Ohio. That’s according to Chef Alfonso Contrisciani, dean of the McClenaghan Center for Hospitality Training at Hocking College.

“If I had 1,000 students graduating this program every year, I might be able to meet the demand of those wanting to employ our students,” he said. “There is a huge demand for trained employees in the hospitality industry right now.”

Students at Hocking College can earn degrees and/or certificates in culinary arts, baking, and hotel and restaurant management. The growing program, which now includes about 250 students, is located in the Inn at Hocking College in Nelsonville.
Contrisciani, a certified master chef, and his staff teach in-depth courses ranging from restaurant and catering services to dietary food service management. Each student is trained in all aspects of food preparation.

“I think most of the success of our program is based on the practicum experience the students receive,” he said.

One course requires 128 hours per semester of “live fire” experience with paying customers. Each student works in several different environments including the restaurant Rhapsody, Star Brick Bistro at the Inn at Hocking College, a lab to make production desserts and a catering division.

Corey Clarey, a second-year student from Chillicothe and the catering assistant at Hocking College, chose to pursue a career in culinary arts because of a lifelong interest in food and for the career opportunities.

“You always have a job anywhere you go,” Clarey said. “There is always somewhere that needs kitchen work.”

Hocking sends most of its students into careers in three areas. Some go to quick casual chains like Bob Evans, Max & Ermas and TGI Fridays. Some go to large food service companies like Sudexo, Aramark and Centerplate. Others pursue casual fine dining and fine dining careers with country clubs, high-end restaurants and hotels.

“We teach the students the speed factor and the importance of being expedient. The restaurant business is stressful because everybody wants to eat at the same time, but it’s not ‘Hell’s Kitchen;’ that’s Hollywood,” Contrisciani said. “We teach our students how to be professional at all times in the high-stress environment of the kitchen or dining room.”

Another key piece of the educational experience is fine-tuning interpersonal skills.

“I can teach people how to cook and bake, but I can’t teach them the people skills. We work to bring the best out of our students and polish up their life skills,” he said.
With a growing nationwide interest in local foods and sustainability, Hocking College has begun putting a focus on farm-to-table knowledge, developing sustainability and agriculture courses. Its ongoing farm-to-school program sources food from 30 local farmers and producers. Students then prepare the food and send it to three local schools. There are plans to expand these programs and to create sustainable agriculture degrees and certificates and build an extensive continuing education program.

“Focus on farm-to-table helps me learn and focus more on what is readily available and what is not available at all in this region,” said Glenn Roberts, a retired steel worker and Anheuser-Busch employee who is “living the dream every day” in his second year at Hocking College with a dual major in culinary arts and baking. He hopes to use his education to open a soup kitchen with his wife and teach people how to eat well, affordably.

“If you have a good crew of people you work with every day, it can be fun when you go to work. It doesn’t have to be monotonous and boring,” Clarey said. “There is always something different and new…It is an ever changing career and there are always new food trends and new flavors. You could be the next person to discover that.”