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COOKING : Career Path Is Not Just a Recipe for Pros

April 01, 1993|PAT GERBER | Pat Gerber is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

If fantasies of life as a professional chef raise your heart rate, but tuition costs for the Cordon Bleu or La Varenne bring it down again, you might consider a home-grown alternative.

The Culinary Arts/Cook Apprentice program at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa offers a range of classes that would please both the dilettante and the professional.

Chef and full-time instructor Bill Barber says the vocational program is designed to serve people who want to cook or run a restaurant for a living, but it also can apply to people who simply want to understand the basics of kitchen chemistry. The roughly 150 students in the culinary arts program range from pros trying to upgrade their skills to people who seldom, if ever, have picked up a chopping knife.

The program is divided into two components: a certificate of completion in culinary arts that can be used toward an associate in arts degree; or for the truly serious, a three-year apprenticeship program that gets students working in an approved restaurant or hotel, such as Anaheim's Disneyland Hotel or the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, under the guidance of a chef.

The culinary arts program is designed to provide a solid foundation in cooking methods and menus. It begins with the fundamentals--courses on how to make a soup stock or sauce, bread baking, meat cutting, vegetable preparation--to putting together a smooth mousse or pate, even ice carving.

Emphasis is on understanding how and why certain foods work together. Cooking methods and baking skills--not learning new recipes as would be the case in most private cooking classes--are stressed, Barber says.

Courses expand from the fundamentals into food service management, with such topics as budgeting, designing menus or planning and purchasing, and hotel management.

All the courses feature hands-on work--students knead the dough, slice the meat, prepare the budget--that is supplemented by lectures and videos.

The curriculum emphasizes the practical--working in a commercial kitchen. But lest you think most students end up cooking in some hospital cafeteria for minimum wage, think again. Julia Child may never have whipped her whisk here, but some students have won gold medals in culinary competitions, and another graduate was good enough to have made the Olympic culinary team.

The program also is one of only three in the state to be accredited by the American Culinary Federation, which also certifies chefs (the other two accredited programs are in Northern California, one being the respected California Culinary Academy in San Francisco). The Orange Coast program recently was re-accredited for another five years.

And with tuition averaging anywhere from $25 to $55 a class--a bit more if you already have a bachelor's degree--enrolling here is a bargain contrasted with the $1,000 in air fare alone you'd have to spend for a round-trip ticket to France.

Orange Coast College is accepting applications for the fall semester Culinary Arts/Cook Apprentice program, which starts Aug. 16. For more information: (714) 432-5835.

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