A culinary ‘Cadillac’: New HCC institute to train aspiring chefs draws admiration, acclaim

  • Michael Serrano of Springfield, center, stretches pizza dough Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The dining room at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute is shown March 21, 2018 in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The exterior of the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke is shown Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Students Dustin Covey of Westfield, left, Kathryn Campbell of Belchertown and Kelly Miller of Westfield watch as Warren Leigh, hospitality and culinary arts department chairman, right, demonstrates how to properly top a pizza last week at the Holyoke Community College’s MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The plating station in the production kitchen is shown March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A personal pizza made at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute is shown. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Warren Leigh, hospitality and culinary arts department chair, talks about the demo kitchen March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Warren Leigh, hospitality and culinary arts department chair, demonstrates how to spread pesto across pizza dough March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A personal pizza is topped with cheese at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute is shown March 21, 2018 in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Student Kelly Miller of Westfield tops a personal pizza March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Paul Provost of Springfield, left, slides a personal pizza onto a peel to transport it to the oven March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. Michael Serrano of Springfield, center, looks on as Nick Kosuda of Pelham shapes dough. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Student Jeramie Marquez of Palmer plates salad March 21, 2018 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Kathryn Campbell of Belchertown tops pizza dough last week at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in Holyoke. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

@BeraDunau
Published: 3/25/2018 6:45:39 PM

HOLYOKE — For a student learning the ins and outs of cooking, one of the newest additions at Holyoke Community College is a dream come true.

The HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in downtown Holyoke in January as the new home for the college’s culinary arts program, is a $7.5 million mecca to fledgling chefs.

“This is wonderful,” said Carl King, a student in the program.

“A Pinto to a Cadillac,” continued King, in comparing it to the program’s previous facility.

Located at 164 Race St., the 21,000-square-foot space features state-of-the-art cooking appliances, and computer and video technology that is deployed in both the classroom and the kitchen. The cost of the facility, including equipment, was funded by money from the state, city, federal, college and community mitigation funds from MGM Springfield, which this fall will open its new casino complex in Springfield.

“The size … (of) our facility has grown tremendously,” said Warren Leigh, chairman of the hospitality and culinary arts department at HCC.

The previous facility was located on HCC’s campus, while the new one is located off-campus by the Connecticut River. While the previous facility contained a kitchen and a bakery, the new facility contains four kitchens and a bakery. It also has a student lounge, classrooms, walk-in refrigeration and a dining area.

“It’s amazing,” said Michael Wellspeak, who graduated from the program about six years ago and visited the facility Wednesday. “It’s something … most chefs dream of.”

Wellspeak said that when he was looking at culinary programs, he felt HCC provided both the best quality and value.

“This place just kind of screamed my name,” said Wellspeak.

Leigh said that having the facility off-campus has fostered excitement and pride among his students.

“They really feel like this is their school,” he said.

One of the kitchens in the facility is the test kitchen, which has cameras and monitors that allow for broadcasting and recording of lessons. Leigh said that this will allow people to engage with lessons at any time.

“There’s so many ways we could use that technology,” he said.

Not all changes at the program are physical either. A new, two-semester culinary arts certificate will premiere in the fall, while an associate of applied science in culinary arts degree is currently in the works, which will be a four-semester program. This degree is set to replace the associate in food service management that the program currently offers. The program also offers noncredit courses in everything from gourmet baking to TIPS certification, also known as training and intervention procedures for servers of alcohol.

Credit and noncredit students can take classes at the facility simultaneously, something that was not possible at the previous facility.

Leigh estimates that there are 60 credit students and 20 noncredit students currently in the program. He said that the certificate program prepares people to be able to take a job as a line cook in a restaurant, while the associate degree prepares graduates to become lead line cooks.

“You’re really ready to be a supervisor,” he said.

Those in the certificate program can also seamlessly transition into the associate degree program following completion, as it contains prerequisites for the program.

“I think it gives you that leg up,” said Leigh, on the advantage of going to college for culinary training, as opposed to working up through the industry without it.

Leigh also noted that there’s been an increase in people signing up for the program since the new facility opened.

Program director Michele Cabral says part of that increse is being fueled by completion program agreements HCC has established with a number of institutions, including the University of Massachusetts. These agreements allow for automatic admissions to four-year programs following the completion of an associate degree, provided grades are sufficiently high. A similar agreement is being discussed with Johnson and Wales University.

In addition to providing mitigation funding for the facility, MGM has also begun to hold auditions for culinary positions at the Springfield resort.

“They’re utilizing the kitchen space right now,” Cabral said.

She also said that MGM has consulted on the curriculum, so that graduates will be prepared for the industry.

The students interviewed at the facility were pleased with the new facility.

Vivian Martinez is finishing her associate in food service management this semester, and will get her associate in business technology.

“I love this new facility,” she said.

She is looking to open up her own catering business.

Behnam Alimirzaei said that he chose the school for culinary in order to “level up” his skills. He’s finishing up his certificate, and will then seek an associate degree.

“You really can’t compare it,” he said, of the new facility, comparing it to a four-year-college. He is currently implementing a five-year-plan to open up his own restaurant.

Amber Duby, 20, is in the middle of completing her certificate and will be going for her associate degree. She plans on opening up her own pastry business in the future.

“It is beautiful,” she said, of the facility.

King worked in the military for 14 years, where he was also a cook. Going for his certificate and his associate degree, King plans on getting a job at MGM Springfield and going on to get his bachelor’s degree. However, his end goal is to become an instructor at HCC.

He wouldn’t be alone in having hands-on, real-world experience, as the instructors at HCC all have restaurant backgrounds. Indeed, Leigh opened his first restaurant at 30, after which he owned restaurants for the next 15 years. Cabral said that this real-world experience is valuable for the program.

“I think it’s the combination of the building and the people who make it special,” she said.




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