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School’s culinary arts program ready to turn students into chefs

JUSTIN SELLERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Chef Susanna Sharp, center, will be teaching Copiah-Lincoln Community College's culinary arts program. Her students are, clockwise from top left, Lynne Scott, Andrea Williams, Ann Jackson, Maya Fitzgerald and Beth Clem.
JUSTIN SELLERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Chef Susanna Sharp, center, will be teaching Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s culinary arts program. Her students are, clockwise from top left, Lynne Scott, Andrea Williams, Ann Jackson, Maya Fitzgerald and Beth Clem.

Every classic profession has its uniform — clergy have cassocks, firemen have turnout gear and chefs have white, double-breasted jackets.

Last week, Adams County’s next generation of chefs found out if they were going to look the part when they took to the kitchen.

Taking a moment before settling in for almost three hours of lecturing about kitchen utensils and menu pricing, the students majoring in Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s newly launched culinary arts tried on a few chef’s jackets for size with their instructor, Chef Susanna Sharp.

After trying on their uniforms, the students settled in while Sharp discussed utensils they would need when the class heads into the kitchen. Holding up a set of knives that one student had purchased, she pointed out how the tine went all the way to the end of one knife’s handle.

“That’s where they have just put a handle right on top of the blade,” Sharp said. “That’s what you want — if the tine doesn’t go all the way back, your knife will fall apart. These are good knives.”

The Co-Lin Natchez campus has not offered an associate’s degree of technical science in culinary arts before, and Sharp — a chef who also operates Aunt Suzie’s Catering — said she developed it by adapting the existing culinary program from Co-Lin’s Wesson campus and seeking the advice of other chefs. She has an advisory committee of chefs including The Carriage House’s Bingo Starr, Cotton Alley’s Guy Bass, Slick Rick’s Rick Simons and the Isle of Carpi’s Andrew Haile.

Sharp is a Co-Lin graduate who received her bachelor’s degree from the Mississippi University for Women and had her first sampling there. She also taught as an adjunct professor at MUW.

The goal of the fist year of study — culinary principles and dining room management — will be to teach students how to plan for the successful operation of a kitchen, Sharp said.

“We will be learning basic knife skills, basic butchering, stocks and sauces — all of the basics to building an awesome menu in this first semester,” she said. “In dining room management, they’ll learn how to set up a dining room, how to serve a dining room and how to run a dining room.”

Students will also take field trips to vegetable and dairy farms as part of the menu-fresh learning process, she said.

When students complete the two-year program, they’ll be able to enter the field as a sous chef, upscale line cook, food critic or restaurant manager, and during the course of the program, they’ll be eligible to get ServeSafe and ManageFirst certifications from the National Restaurant Association.

And while those are all goals the students in the class want to obtain, Andrea Williams — who wants to one day open a restaurant — said her decision to major in culinary arts only two weeks before school started goes back to her roots.

“I have a Cajun spirit, so I love to cook,” she said. “Actually getting to cook the things that we are talking about, learning about, that is going to be awesome.”

Williams’ classmate Wanda Edwards said she was interested in the program in part because she already had an associate’s degree in business management from Co-Lin. She wants to get the culinary arts degree and ultimately run a commercial food services operation.

“That way, I will be able to use both of my degrees,” she said.

“I already cook, but taking this class is going to make me feel more confident about my cooking.”

While Edwards’ plan amounts to a self-made kitchen management track, Co-Lin also allows students who want to take a few extra courses to get an associate’s of hotel management once they complete the culinary arts degree.

That’s just something that ultimately makes sense to offer, Sharp said.

“A lot of restaurants are attached to a hotel, and if you’re working in the kitchen it’s good for you to know how they manage things out there, and if you’re running the hotel, with this you already know how to run and manage the kitchen,” she said.

The culinary arts program requires students to have a 14 on the ACT, and is covered by federal Pell grants. Students are also required to take basic courses in literature, history and writing.

Other information can be found at www.colin.edu.

 

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