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Community colleges training future chefs

community colleges culinary program
Posted at 2:17 PM, May 10, 2022

HAVERHILL, Mass. — There's a big need for more service workers and that includes all types of restaurant cooks. Community colleges believe the timing serves as an opportunity to offer more affordable, top-of-the-line programs.

"The Cordon Bleu programs, the Art Institutes had many programs around the country. Both those programs are almost non-existent anymore because people just can't afford the cost," said Chef Denis Boucher, the culinary program coordinator at Northern Essex Community College.

With programs dissipating, restaurants are sounding alarm bells, so that's where community colleges like Northern Essex are stepping in.

"We're here for the community. We're training the next chefs, the next cooks in our community," Boucher said.

"This is where people go when they are changing careers or when they are not sure what to do with their career and you shouldn't be burdened with extreme debt just because your mind at a certain age decided you wanted to try something for once," said Chef Instructor Colby Bergeron.

Boucher attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), one of the best programs in the world.

"We are giving them a very similar experience to what I got out of CIA," Boucher said.

He and Bergeron have created a top-notch program for a fraction of the cost. Some culinary schools cost nearly $20,000 per semester, but the program at Northern Essex costs about $6,500 for a certificate and around $14,000 for an associate degree.

"Since that void has been created, were seeing now community colleges now getting good funding, getting great benefactors and they are seeing the need in their community and they are reacting. Just exactly what a community college should be doing," Boucher said.

This lower-cost, community college solution is catching on. There are similar programs in Kansas, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, and California. 

"People often overlook community college because they see it as second-rate schooling for years and years but the stigma is breaking, it's changing," Bergeron said.

Northern Essex reports a 100% job placement rate.