Chef Brian Minkin on the St. Petersburg campus carefully instructs his students on the proper way to use a knife.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
PINELLAS COUNTY — Whether they’re sautéing or broiling, roasting or baking, future chefs and bakers alike are learning to master their kitchen skills in the Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality program offered at both the St. Petersburg and Clearwater campuses of Pinellas Technical College (PTC).
In this hands-on program taught in a state-of-the-art professional kitchen, there consists of four segments: Food Preparation, Restaurant Cook, Chef/Head Cook, and finally, the Food Service Management course. The initial course covers the ever-important basics that all prospective chefs need to know, such as measurements, equipment, basic cooking principles, and even food science.
Chef Brian Minkin, a longtime Clearwater PTC instructor who now teaches on the St. Pete campus, explained that it also includes kitchen safety and food sanitation.
“When you’re handling other people’s food, you have to make sure you’re doing it correctly,” he said.
The students then move on to the next segment, the Restaurant/Cook course, where they get to work more on their cooking and baking skills. Here they get to study essential ingredients and the preparation of fruits and vegetables in stocks and soups.
Jackie Drum, culinary instructor on the Clearwater campus for six years, said that the students continue to learn about nutrition in this segment, along with handling chef’s knives and doling out precise measurements.
“They learn about different kinds of appetizer, tapas,” Drum said, “sandwiches, salads, how to emulsify different kinds of dressings.”
In this course, students also learn essential front-of-house skills as well, Drum said, including how to serve, how to correctly set tables, and how to use a computerized POS (point of sale) register.
It is in the Chef/Head Cook portion of the program that the students move on to entrées, including centerpiece dishes consisting of beef, pork, fish, and poultry. Such delectable meats are often accompanied by tasty sides to perfectly round out the meals.
“Your rices, your pastas, your potatoes,” Minkin said, “and of course any vegetables that accompany the main entrée.”
The Food Service Management portion is the final part of the journey, where students study the purchase, use, and maintenance of all food service equipment. They also apply advanced cooking techniques in the classroom and the kitchen and get the chance to express themselves with their own edible innovations.
“They’re acting as a manager and coordinating,” Minkin explained, “and creating menus for service, and of course, overseeing those menus that they create.”
The savory dishes — everything from smothered pork chops to Shrimp Alfredo to gourmet omelets — are served at both PTC campuses for the faculty, staff, and students. On the St. Pete campus, meals are even donated to homeless shelters.
Some ingredients come from local purveyors, while others are harvested directly from the gardens on the campuses, including exotic fares such as Ethiopian kale and more familiar vegetables such as broccoli, heirloom tomatoes, and collard greens.
“We have onions in there, we have cantaloupe in there,” Drum said of the Clearwater campus garden, “tomatoes, romaine, celery. We have a lemon and lime tree.”
Minkin explained that they compost the vegetable scraps and waste to feed the soil.
“So we’re doing some ‘green’ stuff there, good for the environment,” he said.
If the student is driven and has good attendance, it takes about 13 months to complete the program, Minkin noted. The ages of the students range from high school teens in the dual enrollment program to senior citizens looking to embark on a whole new career or just reinvent themselves.
PTC assists with job placement once the students have finished the program, helping them launch their new careers at resorts, upscale restaurants on the beach, or anywhere else that needs skilled chefs — even high-end retirement communities.
“We have so many connections with our industry partners,” Minkin said, adding due to the resurgence of St. Pete and surrounding areas, there are more and more restaurants coming up all the time. “Placing the students is typically not a problem.”
Drum said that PTC tries to pair students with the establishments that they believe will be a good match for all concerned.
For those that have a penchant for the sweeter things in life, the Clearwater campus offers the Baking & Pastry Arts program. It is broken up into two segments, the first of which is the Pastry Cook/Baker course.
Chef Rose Audibert explains it’s important for beginning students to learn to read and follow a formula.
“Because that’s what a recipe is in baking, a formula,” she explained. It’s chemistry.”
Students learn liquid volumes and weights and understand how to read recipes.
“Then we move into yeast and raised doughnuts,” Audibert explained, “anything yeast related. Sweet dough, Danish, laminated doughs.”
Quick bread, cookies, and muffin mixes are also taught in this first course, while the second part, the Pastry Chef/Head Baker course, involves sauces, pies, and pastries while stressing presentation.
“You’re also taught the managerial part of it,” Audibert said. “We teach the registers, so they have the concept of monies. There’s a project that they have to do, a fictitious bakery of some sort–everything you can think of to open up a business.”
The program takes about six months to complete, and PTC, as it does for all its graduates, helps place the students in the workforce. Baking & Pastry Arts graduates can find jobs in such varied locations as restaurants and hotels, nursing establishments, supermarket bakeries, and even cruise ships.
The instructors agree that lending a guiding hand to future chefs and bakers is rewarding work in itself. Drum finds it satisfying seeing her students grasp all the skills they’ve learned and to be successful out in the workforce.
“Sometimes we don’t realize as instructors the impact that we’re making on our students’ lives,” Minkin said. “My reward, my paycheck, is when they go on to better things, whether it’s improving their cooking at home or if they become a chef at a hotel or restaurant.”
For more information on the more than 40 programs offered at PTC, visit myptc.edu or call 727-893-2500 in St. Pete and 727-538-7167 in Clearwater.