Clark College culinary arts program takes a food-serving hiatus

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photo Clark College culinary arts student Louis Cayson prepares tomato soup during lunch last week in the cafeteria's kitchen.

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Editor’s note: This story was written by staff members of The Independent, Clark College’s campus newspaper, as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College. It was published Wednesday in The Independent.

Clark College's culinary program will stop serving food for two years, beginning spring quarter.

To replace the program's food now served in Clark's cafeteria and dining hall, the college will introduce privately operated food carts around campus, according to Genevieve Howard, the college's dean of Workforce, Career & Technical Education. College officials say they're not sure when those carts will be operating or the types of food they'll offer.

Food also will still be available in the Clark College Bookstore, Hannah Hall, Bauer Hall and between AA-4 and Joan Stout Hall.

The two-year hiatus in the culinary arts program's food service allows time for a thorough review of the program, Howard said. During the closure, a 12-member task force of college officials and faculty will draft a proposal to restructure the program's curriculum and update the kitchen equipment.

"The program is not going away," she said. "That is not the purpose of the task force."

But, she added, a relaunch date for program students to offer food service is uncertain because of the likely need to renovate some of the facilities used by the program. Howard said that renovations might also include creating a more aesthetically pleasing dining environment.

"We are charged with presenting a proposal to the college community," said Howard, who is head of the task force.

More profitability

The culinary program is one of Clark's largest career and technical programs, Howard said. Clark also spends a lot of money on the program, which is why the task force is brainstorming ways for the program to become more profitable. If the program makes more money, officials can buy additional supplies and equipment.

Howard also said the program will focus on sustainable cooking practices and alternative meal options, such as vegan items.

People also have expressed a desire for cheaper and healthier menu items.

"I wish we had healthier options," Clark student Elizabeth Campbell said in response to a general inquiry on The Independent's Facebook page. "Most times I'm in the cafeteria their entrees are fried Southern-style cooking and Americana cuisine. … The cafeteria hours are too short and elsewhere on campus is financially unreasonable."

Howard hopes more food options and longer service hours will better serve students and staff who are on the main campus in the afternoons and evenings.

As for the privately-run food carts, college administrators surveyed students at the beginning of winter quarter to find out which food vendors they want on campus. No information on the food carts is currently available.

Students have options

College officials gave culinary students the option of finishing their education in the next two years through various classes and internships at restaurants. About 60 students are enrolled in the program.

The task force hopes to finish drafting the new program by Spring 2014. New students can't start the program until then.

Current culinary students will begin interning at restaurants such as Royal Oaks Country Club, the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, The Quarry Senior Living and the Heathman Lodge.

Interning offers students "real-world" culinary experience, said Tierre Benton, instructor of Restaurant Management at Clark.

"Interns are a win-win situation for both the restaurants and our students," Benton said.

Other colleges in the area offer culinary arts programs, such as Le Cordon Bleu College in Portland. Clark officials plan to be competitive after changes are made by charging less, Howard said.

Clark offers a one-year culinary arts food program starting at about $10,000, which includes books, supplies and fees. Tuition at Le Cordon Bleu College starts at $19,500 for a certificate in culinary arts, according to the college's website. Both programs take approximately 12 instructional months to complete.