Chef David Mills, an instructor in the culinary arts program at Harrisburg Area Community College, is quick to point out that the school isn’t popping out line cooks to work at midstate chain restaurants or diners. It’s graduating chefs who are certified through the American Culinary Federation, the largest professional chefs’ organization in North America.
“We’re one of the few programs in the state that does that,” Mills said. “Our students are learning the skills to create their own recipes rather than follow someone else’s, and they’re also getting the management training to run their own restaurants.”
On a recent night, Mills oversaw 14 chefs-to-be in HACC’s Culinary 1 class in the newly remodeled and enlarged kitchen in the Benjamin Olewine III Center for the Study of Culinary Arts at the school’s Cooper Student Center. Ranging in age from the late teens on up, the students hunched over their stoves in pairs, preparing a cream of broccoli and puree of split-pea soup that was to be sold for lunch the next day at the school’s teaching restaurant, the Chef’s Apprentice.
“During each class we teach them how to do something, and then they do it and build on their skills,” Mills said. “The soup they’re making tonight is going to feed about 200 people, so this is real-world experience.”
Pointing around the bustling kitchen, Mills said each of his students has “a different background and a different story of why they’re here.”
Chefs in training
Two students, Jenna Nankibell and Brandon Horne, said they both cooked when they were younger and picked up tips by following their mothers around the kitchen.
“I can’t say I was the best cook back then, but I learned a lot from my mom and tried to mimic what she did,” Nankibell said. “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”
A registered dietitian at Hershey Foods, Nankibell said she wants to combine her Penn State degree with a culinary arts degree from HACC, although she’s not certain yet where she’ll wind up.
“I’m trying to keep my options open to see what unique opportunities might arise,” she said.
Horne, who works as a yard jockey at the Rutherford railroad yard in Swatara Township, was a bit more definitive.