We spend a lot of time in these pages looking at established chefs, with new restaurants and kitchens, innovating and pushing out new creative energy in Connecticut’s food scene. But what about the up-and-comers, those honing their craft, trying to break onto the scene? Through night classes and full-time jobs, balancing all of life’s burdens, there are those trying to get their foot in the door of the food world. Here’s our look at Connecticut’s community college cooking school landscape.
Gateway Community College
Gateway offers a one-year certificate in the culinary arts, during which students can contribute and get a taste of real-life restaurant experience at Cafe Vincenzo, Gateway’s open-to-the-public “lab-restaurant.” Located in the south building of Gateway Community College at the corner of Church and George streets in New Haven, Cafe Vincenzo offers rotating lunch and dinner prix fixe meals. While the spring semester’s meals wrap up May 2 with a Cuban menu, the dinners will start up again in the fall semester with an American theme, according to Stephen Fries, Gateway’s hospitality management program coordinator (and New Haven Register food columnist). The lab-restaurant serves as a testing ground for students to hone their skills across a variety of elements of the culinary world, from cooking to curating a menu to serving it and managing a kitchen. New Haven is, of course, a food destination in its own right, so you can imagine that the budding chefs here take some inspiration from the high-quality cuisine in the area.
Manchester Community College
Manchester is the only community college in the state that offers a two-year associate degree in the culinary arts. In addition to the classwork and hands-on lab experience, the degree requires some 300 hours of cooperative work experience. In April, the program received the endorsement of Connecticut culinary connoisseur and radio host Faith Middleton when she hosted MCC’s 25th-anniversary Evening of Fine Wines event with Chris Prosperi, the head chef at Metro Bis in Simsbury. The program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Educational Institute, and also offers a double degree in food-service management or hotel-tourism management. On May 2, the school will have its annual “Grazing Day,” an all-you-can-eat buffet at noon. Check the website for the next open-kitchen lunches and dinners when students get a chance to strut their stuff to the public.
Norwalk Community College
In the southwestern part of the state, proximity to New York City means the culinary competition has the potential to be a bit fiercer, the palates a bit sharper, perhaps. Norwalk Community College has a one-year culinary arts certificate program. In addition to learning the basics of food identification, food utilization, menu writing and recipe creation, students can apply much of the coursework to a hospitality-management associate degree program.
Community Culinary School of Northwestern Connecticut
While not part of the state’s community-college system, this job-training program in New Milford boasts a 96-percent job-placement rate, while all graduates receive a ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification, a nationally recognized course from the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation. Students at the school also gain real-world experience through the full-service catering business, with a menu featuring picnic favorites like baked ziti, chicken piccata and pulled pork. Students also prepare food for the New Milford Food Bank, and spend one day a week for a period of six weeks at an internship site.