Dining And Diplomas
Prince George’s Community College Opens Pioneering Culinary Arts Center
Not since “Black Panther” have lines felt as long as they were to get a taste of the samplings at the new Culinary Arts Center at Prince George’s Community College on opening day April 19.
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration but the high energy and elbow to elbow nature of the day was reminiscent for some of the brimming movie lobbies last February.
Over 200 residents, VIPs, students and political and civic leaders crowded into the halls, kitchens and work spaces of the state of the art facility. With nearly a dozen student chefs, at least two master chefs and the culinary contributions of the County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and PGCC President Charlene Dukes, there were dozens of exotic dishes including salmon, oysters, mushrooms, crab and much more.
The 21,350 sq foot center represents a massive new industry hub in a world where hospitality, health and culinary careers are among the top three growing workforces in the national economy. Technologically advanced and green smart, the building itself is also a cutting edge architectural marvel.
But it was Baker's and Duke's cooking skills that guests sought to marvel at on opening day.
“Keep the fire extinguishers nearby,” shouted County Councilman Derrick L. Davis (D-Dist. 6) as the County Executive donned an apron. The executive laughed along with the councilman noting that his daughters would urge against him preparing food for people to actually eat.
As a sea of cell phones pointed to the duo preparing tasty finger foods, other guests began absorbing the many offerings of the new center.
And there are many. Courses in Chinese dishes led by chefs arriving from China begin April 20. Other classes include Grill Master, Junior Culinary (nutrition in fruits and vegetables), 60+ Boot Camp (food and nutrition for adults 60+ and older) and Kitchen Cook certification (recognition as a food preparation professional).
A wedding planner certification course is offered for planners who want to enrich their abilities for their clients.
And just for fun and giggles, courses such as Mix, Taste and Paint (mixology, food pairing and painting) and Sip, Taste and Paint (wines, food and painting) are courses to add spice in the lives of participating community members. Classes are already booking up for summer.
But the primary goal is to give rise to a pipeline of culinary skilled professionals.
“Today’s opening is absolutely awesome. It provides a state of the art teaching learning environment for students who want degrees and certificates and certifications," says Prince George's Community College President Charlene Dukes. "What it does for our community at large is extraordinary. We look forward to not just having students come in but to having members of our community come in and learn about cooking and cooking techniques and ways that we can eat in a more nutritional manner.”
Toward that end, courses from intro to culinary arts through Food Productions 1 and 2 and Baking Skills up to higher level food management education including Food Service Operations and Garde Manger & Catering are a few options within the curriculum.
“I never imagined something like this coming to life,” says Fred Johnson. Johnson is an adjunct professor at PGCC who is a veteran food and catering professional. He’s been teaching catering and bar management at the college for 10 years. “Today is special because now we have a platform. At one time we were all over the county trying to teach food and beverage. Now, we have a center where we can really give back to the students and the county. You can see us off of 202 and hopefully classes will be bursting at the seams and we will be able to give back.”
Natalie Webb, the department chair for Wellness, Culinary Arts and Hospitality, has been at PGCC for 18 years, is also seeing an unexpected but longtime dream come true.
“This is about setting up opportunities for people to find gainful employment,” Webb explains. “There are plenty of jobs in the county for culinary arts and hospitality and we are going to set the stage for them right here. We are the first in the area to do this and that’s part of what makes it so exciting for us. I never expected to see something like this [over the course of my career].”
The center is a spacious, welcoming and uniquely designed facility. The building includes several instructional kitchens, community kitchens and even a bar for instruction (in addition to a traditional classroom, event space and meeting and dining room).
Director of Planning, Design and Construction Henry Dickson believes that the facility is one of a kind.
“This is a baton passing. I’m taking the work that we have done for five years and passing it on to the community,” he says. “I don’t believe there is anything else like this in the region. We are one in a million. I don’t believe there is another college or university that has a program like this anywhere in the region.”
Dicksonwho works on the college’s master planning says that he’s busy with projects through 2028.
Dukes: “This speaks to our connection to economic development and quality of life in Prince George’s.
“We have opened a facility that will train our workforce for tomorrow,” says Howard Stone, administrative specialist at Prince George’s County government. “We have added tremendously to the growth of the county. I’m ecstatic!”
College leaders say that the opening fits with the development of Largo as the new downtown hub for Prince George’s. Brenda Mitchell, executive director of the Office of Institutional Advancement and Foundation at Prince George's Community College says the center will provide a destination for consumers and a pipeline for area employers.
“Today is the culmination of five years of planning and it’s a big opportunity for our students and a win for the county as a whole because the vision for this center is in lock step with what is happening in the county,” says Mitchell.
Councilman Davis: “We have something here for generations of Prince Georgians to learn and earn right here in the county.”