College’s culinary arts program fills appetite for learning |

College’s culinary arts program fills appetite for learning

Dylan Silver/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif.- Who wouldn’t want to play with frosting for hours on end? Obviously students in Angela Santos’ cake decorating class at Lake Tahoe Community College do, but their time isn’t just leisurely icing. It’s a guided study of the sugary beads, shells, lace and embroidery that adorn fancy baked goods.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot,” said cake decorating student Denise Jahn, as she practiced frosting patterns on a piece of wax paper Monday. “They start you slow and then work you into everything you might come across. And then if there’s something you want to learn, they’ll get you into that.”

Cake decorating is just one of the many cooking, food preparation, sanitation and even wine classes that the college’s culinary arts program offers. Over the last few years, the program has grown substantially and is now one of the premier career technical education sections at LTCC.

Culinary classes served at the college range from Introduction to the Culinary Arts Profession (Culinary 101) to Vegetarian Cuisine to multiple day workshops on specific foods like sushi, soups, sauces and cookies. Even classes on regional eats like Indian, Mexican and French cuisine are available.

The college has four certificates through their culinary arts program and is soon adding a fifth, the “Healthy Cooking” certificate. All of which are as good an education as you could cook up anywhere, said dean of instruction Cynthea Preston.

“We have students that have been through CIA (Culinary Institute of America), paying $30,000 to $40,000,” Preston said. “And many of them say they’re getting a better education here.”

Preston and culinary arts chair Steve Fernald, who’s currently on sabbatical, spent a year and a half revamping the program. In the last five years, the number of students enrolled has jumped from 20 to more than 300, Preston said. The number and scope of classes offered continues to grow, but if the program has one problem it’s finding qualified professors in the area to teach.

“We can’t expand because there’s not enough professors,” Preston said.

Santos drives to South Lake Tahoe once a week from her home in Rocklin, Calif. to teach cake decorating and advanced cake decorating. She’ll only make the drive during the warmer months, she said.

Both students and professors noted culinary classes fill up quickly and getting a seat can be difficult.

“You have to wake up at like 7 a.m. and register unless it’s a secondary class,” said Santos’ student Elizabeth Hansen.

Whether it’s the kitchen full of Swiss and German utensils, mixers and ovens, the high quality training, or just the fun, for students, the reasons for taking culinary arts classes are as varied as the subjects offered. Mia Smyrski, who works in admissions at the college, is taking cake decorating class to please her 8-year-old and 5-year-old sons.

“I made them a cake last year and it didn’t come out the way I wanted,” she said. “The first cake I brought home (from class), they were like, ‘Oh this is so good, Mom.'”

Sugar Pine Bakery baker Teresa Chavez, 20, is taking the class to improve her skills for her job, she said. She’s taken the bread and pastries class and the food sanitation class.

Stephanie Jee, a cook at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort and baker at Camp Mather who has a master’s degree in aviation management, said she started taking culinary classes to get a promotion at her current job, but the classes turned out to be more than she expected.

“I’ve never had more fun in a class,” Jee said. “All the things you learn and all the things you can apply. This is just awesome.”

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