Andrew Aczel (left) credits his experience in ChefsGO and with chef Hans Schadler as key parts of his culinary training.
An immeasurable amount of time, effort and planning has gone into the development, implementation and improvement of the ChefsGO program at Thomas Nelson. With some aspects of the collaboration, which coordinator Allison Patterson calls “an accelerated culinary arts program,” the principals involved knew what they were getting into. In others areas, not so much.
One aspect that fit into the latter but has turned into one of the biggest surprises has been the students, who have had a wide range of ages (17 to 61) and experiences. They have come from diverse backgrounds as well as 10 countries. Three of the chefs involved from the beginning – Scott Hoyland of Blue Talon Bistro and Culture Caf), Hans Schadler of Waypoint Seafood & Grill and Travis Brust of Williamsburg Inn – didn’t anticipate that.
“I just figured they would be high school kids,” Hoyland said. “We have people from all different walks of life.”
Added Schadler: “The biggest surprise is the quality of the crafts shown by the students and the enthusiasm.”
It's not only the students' backgrounds but also where they are headed.
Brust said when some students start the program, you’re not sure if they are totally committed to it. But by graduation, they have developed a deep passion for culinary arts.
“It’s like they do a 180, and I think that’s usually the biggest surprise,” he said.
Andrew Aczel, who also has an associate degree in social science from Thomas Nelson, was among six students in the first ChefsGO graduating class in 2017. After nearly two years working at Waypoint Seafood & Grill, where he also did his internship, he moved on to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. His experience and training with ChefsGO has put him ahead of his current classmates.
“A lot of them wish they had a program like I went through,” Aczel said. “Or a lot of people wish they had a community college class about cooking or about food. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity. It’s really cool that Thomas Nelson took that initiative and put the work forward to make this course.”
A Warhill High School graduate, Aczel has been around food his entire life. His grandparents are chefs. His parents, Jeff and Christy who met while enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, own a catering company in Williamsburg called Custom Culinary Connection. Aczel had worked at several local restaurants before entering the ChefsGO program, but still benefited greatly from it.
“I used ChefsGO as a form of proper formal training so I could have a certificate behind it saying (what) I knew,” he said. “Before, I knew a lot but I didn’t have anything saying that I did … There was definitely plenty of stuff I learned.”
He especially appreciated how in-depth the ChefsGO program was. He said with many culinary programs, you work on one portion of the cow or chicken before moving on.
“With ChefsGO, you got to demo what poultry was like at different sizes and with different types of birds,” he said. “With fish, instead of being told this is how you fillet a fish and doing it once, you get to fillet multiple different fish at different sizes and different shapes so you got a varied experienced.”
That experience, along with his internship, means he’s getting more out of the CIA program than others.
“Instead of learning something for the first time, I’m able to be perfecting it,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, Aczel will earn associate and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts from CIA, in November 2020 and 2022, respectively. His dream job is a flavorist.
“It’s a very small, little-known job,” he admitted. “They are the people that create new flavors. It’s basically a food chemist.”
Given his strong background in the food industry, Aczel expects a long career in the culinary arts.
“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing,” he said.
The enjoyment he gets from preparing a meal is how it affects others.
“I love how easily food can make someone happy. That’s the main reason a lot of us do this, to make people happy,” he said.
In the program's three years, 27 students have graduated and all but two still are in the field, according to Robin Carson, another program coordinator. That student success makes all the time, effort and planning well worth it.
“I know it makes me very, very proud to see all the kids doing their things,” Hoyland said. “It gives me a great sense of worth.”
Schadler agreed: “I must say, that for me, the quality of the students we have produced to this day is my biggest gratification.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Classes begin in February. After 13 weeks of classroom instruction and kitchen training at Warhill High School and the Workforce Center, students will move on to a 15-week paid internship at an area restaurant. The class is limited to 15 students. Scholarships and other financial assistance are available for qualified candidates. For more information, contact Allison Patterson at Pattersona@tncc.edu.