By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
They may not be ready for “Hell’s Kitchen,” but a group of laid-off workers might have a leg up on others vying for jobs in the food service industry.
Nine people on Tuesday received certificates from a four-week culinary training program at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical’s Red Wing campus.
Officials say the program will arm select unemployed workers with new skills as they re-evaluate the job market.
“It’s really a great opportunity,” said instructor Tom Skold, a chef at Pepin’s Harbor View Cafe. “Somebody here is going to start a whole new chapter of their life.”
As instructor, Skold introduces students to the basics of food service: handling knives, serving safe food and working in a fast-moving, cramped workspace.
In keeping with the basic instruction, Skold said students don’t have to brace for verbal assaults, popularized on television by chefs like Gordon Ramsay on “Hell’s Kitchen” – one of many shows Skold said has driven interest in culinary programs.
“People can see at least that depiction of what it might be like,” he said Tuesday after a meal cooked and served by the students for invitees at Mississippi National Golf Links.
Students said they welcomed the opportunity to retool.
“This is a total change from what I’m used to,” said Red Wing resident Pariss Gary, who said he had worked for years in the fast-food industry.
The Southeast Tech program launched last month as a partnership between the tech school and Workforce Development Inc.
Randy Long, Workforce Development’s scholarship coordinator, said the organization received federal economic stimulus funding in the spring. The money — about $400,000 in total – was earmarked for training of dislocated workers.
Workforce Development’s board of directors decided on a short-term culinary program. Board member Roy Harley said it’s a good fit for the local market and addresses a work force need.
“There wasn’t another program in this area like this,” Long said.
Southeast Tech was chosen to facilitate the program. Barb Breza, Southeast Tech’s director of continuing education and work force training, said she hopes the program eventually become self-sustaining.
Meanwhile, out-of-work students are receiving free instruction, courtesy of the grant. Breza said the program would otherwise cost up to $1,000, depending on class size.
The next program begins Nov. 9.