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Institute for the Culinary Arts

Changing the Scope of Culinary Education in the Midwest

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When Metropolitan Community College first studied the feasibility of building a new facility for the Institute for the Culinary Arts, it was in response to sky rocketing enrollment in its culinary arts courses. The Master Planning committee had the foresight to do more than merely adding classes, hiring a few additional instructors, and finding space somewhere in the city. It studied the Omaha restaurant market and the food industry at large, not just the increase in the number of Culinary Arts students, to anticipate future needs of the Institute. Once Metro officials recognized the need for well educated Culinary and Hospitality professionals was going to remain strong, they committed resources for the building of a 14 million-dollar, state-of-the-art culinary facility to educate future chefs, managers, and industry professionals.



"Being a chef never goes out of style," says Lisa K. Tooker, Director of the Institute for the Culinary Arts, Hospitality, and Horticulture at Metropolitan Community College. The restaurant industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the countrys economy, expecting "to grow nearly 30% over the next few years." One of the primary challenges facing the industry is a shortage of skilled professionals to meet the ever-increasing consumer and industry demands. 

And, it is not just restaurant owners seeking qualified chefs and management professionals. "There is also a need for chefs and cooks to meet the needs of the growing educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and assisted living communities to feed their populations," observes Tooker.

More and more corporations provide in-house cafeterias for their employees. The healthcare sector continues to grow, even in a slower economy. Its professionals need to be fed on site in between long shifts. As human life expectancy continues to rise, so does the need for assisted living, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, with dining rooms and up-scale restaurants. Many employ highly skilled chefs and culinary professionals.

"There is also consumer demand for healthier, made from scratch meals, both in restaurants and as meals made to go," says Tooker. In the past, harried parents rushed from work to pick up young children at day care or cart older ones to soccer fields and baseball diamonds. The evening often meant a quick run through the nearest fast food drive through. The result: less than nutritious meals loaded with sugar or fried. 

"Our goal is to have all of our program paths help those in our industry obtain success, whether it is a chef following his passion to great food, a manager looking to enhance her leadership skills, or home cooks striving to prepare healthier meals for their families."

-Lisa K. Tooker

But recent studies regarding the American diet have given parents pause. Childhood obesity rates have risen to alarming heights. Obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980. One in three, or 25 million, children and teens are considered overweight. Furthermore, children deemed overweight often carry the propensity into adulthood, leading to such health problems as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type II diabetes. Consumers are demanding alternatives to fast food. "They still want options that are quick and for their busy lives but are also healthy, more nutritious and appealing to children. Dieticians are clamoring for training on how to cook healthy meals that look and taste good," says Tooker.

Omaha is a food town. The number of exceptional restaurants testifies to this fact. "It is expected that jobs for well educated restaurant chefs will increase by 12% with the next year," Tooker states. The citys population growth will precipitate more restaurant and hotel expansion as well as medical institutions and corporate office openings. With the growth of the restaurant and hospitality industry also comes thedemand for more educated chefs and management staff. 

The Institute for the Culinary Arts is perfectly poised to meet these needs and establish its reputation as the regional leader in Culinary and Hospitality education. It offers hands-on programming to train tomorrow's chefs, managers, and other food industry professionals.

It also provides continuing education for current chefs looking to enhance their skills. In the past, local chefs would have to travel out of state for continuing education opportunities. With a nationally-recognized Culinary Arts facility at their immediate disposal, professional enrichment becomes an economically advantageous way to remain a player in an increasingly competitive market.       

Lisa Tooker, from metro MAGAZINE, Spirit of Omaha.com, buyOmahaNOW!™, Omaha's Finest Event ResourceThe Institute of Culinary Arts appeals to yet a third, and growing, demographic-the home chef. Chefs like Ina Garten, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, and Rachel Ray have reached celebrity status previously reserved for rock stars, NBA players, and Hollywoods glitterati. The Hamburger Helper and Shake 'n Bake of yesterday have given way to fresh herbs, often grown fresh in the back yard, imported sea salt, and aged Balsamic vinegar. Today, people are following what marinade Bobby Flay steeps his steak in before grilling and what type of olive oil Giada De Laurentis uses to sauté her vegetables. The home chef may not have time to pursue a full culinary degree but still wants to hone her skills.  The Institute offers non-credit courses that allow her to do just that, whether it is a class on basic knife skills, professional cooking techniques, or specific cuisine.

It is said you need to study the past to understand the future. In the last ten years, interest in food-related careers has boomed as the needs of the industry continue to grow. There is a desire for education focusing on sustainability in foods and ways to prepare healthier meals, as well as a growing demand for those who can deliver excellent food and service. The Institute for the Culinary Arts is prepared to meet these demands as it changes the scope of Culinary and Hospitality education in the Midwest and put Omaha on the map as a Culinary Arts center.

-end- metroMAGAZINE

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