Culinary Arts Department bounces back after COVID-19

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culinary arts sign

By Garrison Nichols

Photo by Chris Swann

It wasn’t until about three years ago that Tyler Junior College had received it’s own culinary program. The program has had a recent comeback after COVID-19 hit and since then has gradually increased in enrollment for its studies in culinary.

COVID-19 has been an obstacle for the Culinary Arts Department in the past, but the program has managed to make a comeback recently. When slowly opening the department back up, they were able to distance the students in order to maintain the hands-on experience of applied science.

They had enrollment issues in the beginning of the semester as the department was starting back up, according to Larry Matson, professor and Department Chair of Culinary Arts. The department is currently looking for new students and faculty to join the program.

The Culinary Arts Department offers two certifications such as, an entry level certification and another in pastry and desserts. Since this is an applied science, one can get their associate degree by following a multitude of pathways to graduation as long as the credits have been completed.

There are high expectations put on culinary students by both their professors as well as themselves. The Culinary Arts Department has standards for its students in its curriculum that they expect them to meet.

“The students should enjoy it, have a passion for it, and be on time,” Matson said. Students develop a better work ethic and team oriented skills as well as an opportunity to improve and focus their skills during the culinary labs. The program is “50% making and the other 50% is learning and reflecting,” Matson said. Students will usually have six hours a week for their cooking training but they are allowed to stay later if there is time to spare. They will also be required to have a journal to write any special information, critiquing, and the material learned in the course.

The Culinary Arts Department also helps other departments and organizations with catering. It is an optional opportunity for students, but the department does want to be able to have more students willing to help and even get paid to do it. The department collaborates with the work study program for students to give them a job helping catering.

“As long as it doesn’t interfere with school then it’s OK,” Matson said.

The TJC Culinary Arts Department has their own restaurant called the “Apache Kitchen.” The restaurant is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and is located next to the Pirtle Technology Building. Everything is cooked fresh and in their new kitchen. Guests can also watch the students practice their skills while they wait. Matson also makes sure things are ready so he checks inventory, gets things prepared and collaborates with other students and faculty there helping him to make sure the restaurant and the department runs smoothly every day.

The “Apache Kitchen” serves a soup of the day, fresh fruit, and a daily variety of desserts and pastries. There are assortments of sandwiches, pizza, and also lemon honey glazed salmon, fried chicken and pasta carbonara. One can also choose to buy a salad and add protein with the choices of chicken or salmon. The menu is subject to change