LRCC culinary arts program

Larissa Baia, president of Lakes Region Community College, and Culinary Professor and Program Coordinator Patrick Hall open a pizza oven in a new kitchen which will serve as a laboratory for students to learn the skills they need to work as chefs in the restaurant industry. The school is utilizing a federal grant and is seeking private matching money for further expansion of the program. (Rick Green/The Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — Culinary students at Lakes Region Community College will soon be able to hone their cooking and baking skills right on campus.

LRCC President Larissa Baia and Professor Patrick Hall, coordinator of the culinary program, on Monday showed off a new kitchen that including baker’s ovens, double-stacked convection ovens, burners, and 12 student stations with induction burners, cutting boards and utensils.

The ovens and tables are on wheels.

“It’s like an operating room,” Hall said. “You can move everything out, spray it down and sanitize everything.”

Two-year degrees are offered in culinary arts, pastry arts and hotel and restaurant operations.

A second kitchen is to be built, while a third phase will include a dining room.

The college received a $189,000 federal grant for the project, which is being built in space formerly used by the school’s automotive program. LRCC needs to match the grant dollar-for-dollar and still needs to raise about $100,000.

The kitchens will allow students to stay on campus for their lab work, which was previously done at Belmont Mill, Canterbury Shaker Village and Concord High School.

There's no lack of work for graduates.

“We have more jobs than we have students,” Hall said. “Right now this is a hot industry. People are looking for help and qualified chefs.”

The program requires students to work four months in the restaurant business while they are going to school earning their associate’s degree.

“That’s what really builds their relationships that leads to jobs,” Baia said. “If you’re working with the Common Man or you’re working with T-Bones, the likelihood that you’re going to end up with that company is really good.”

Other students will go to a four-year culinary program, and LRCC has partnerships with Johnson & Wales University, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and New England Culinary Institute. By starting their college experience at LRCC, students can save thousands of dollars in tuition expenses.

Hall is a graduate of Johnson & Wales and worked as a chef in the Florida Keys at the Cheeca Lodge Resorts. He also worked in Rhode Island at Westin Hotels and the Spring House Hotel on Block Island.

“I keep tabs with these places all the time,” Hall said. “My students go there, too.”

Hall, who has a master’s degree in career and technical education from the University of New England, said there are about 60 students in the program at LRCC.

The head count for total new students at the college is 278, up 17 percent compared to last year. Baia said expansion of the culinary program has the potential for further increasing enrollment.

The average student who graduates with a two-year degree from the culinary program could earn $45,000 a year in the restaurant business to start, potentially advancing to an executive chef position, which would pay $75,000 to $80,000, or more.

“The industry is growing so fast, and they’re in such need, that that pay level is starting to change,” Hall said.

Students who enter the program start with culinary fundamentals.

“It’s like, ‘Here’s a knife. Here’s an oven. Here’s how you turn on an oven. Here’s how you turn off an oven. Here’s how you do your knife cuts,’” Hall said.

Eventually they move on to more technical classes such as making cheese, curing bacon, making sausages, Italian cookery and worldwide cuisine, including Japan, China, Russia.

“And because it’s an associate’s degree, they are taking English and math, psychology, and all those things – your general education courses – which you still have to take,” Baia said.

“Those are the ones that you’ve always taken on this campus even when the kitchen wasn’t here. Now it just means you’re going to be able to take your psychology class down the hall and you’re going to walk just a few feet and get your laboratory stuff in.”

The students will periodically serve lunch to 40 or 50 people on campus to get experience waiting tables and cooking to the needs of real customers.

Hall said many of the students for his program come out of high school technical centers, but there are other participants who are much older and simply want to learn how to cook.

The culinary arts share similarities with other technical education skills.

“You’ve got to be able to work with your hands,” Hall said. “You’ve got to be able to think. A lot of people come into culinary, and it’s like, ‘I’m just going to carry a big bag of flour or whatever.’

“No, there’s a lot of math. There’s a lot of science. A lot of people think it’s mindless work, but it’s not.”

Eventually, students create their own menus, determine what ingredients need to be purchased and how to prepare.

Creativity plays a role.

“Sometimes I give them mystery baskets,” Hall said. “Here’s a certain meat. Here’s a certain vegetable. All right, you’re going to create a dish out of these ingredients.”

And he puts them under pressure when they provide meal service to the public.

“They have to be ready for service at 11:30,” he said. “I say, ‘All right, let’s go,’ and I tell them if they are late they are losing a letter grade.”

And the food has to be good.

“It has to be edible,” Baia said. “If you’re going to present it to the public, it has to be edible.”

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