Scott Hoyland (top photo), Hans Schadler (above left) and Travis Brust (above right) are among the chefs behind Thomas Nelson's culinary arts program ChefsGO.
A lot of ingredients go into making Thomas Nelson’s ChefsGO program a success. A solid curriculum, a strong cohort of students, an appropriate venue and an array of sponsors and supporters all are key elements. But according to program coordinator Allison Patterson, one ingredient is a must.
“Without the chefs, it doesn’t matter if we have the student interest,” she said. “We need the chef interest.”
One reason the program, which is holding its second of three information sessions Oct. 2, has been a success is because securing chefs has never been a problem.
“The chefs were all on board right away,” said Kate Sipes, assistant director of Economic Development for James City County who has been with ChefsGO from the planning stages about four or five years ago.
“I would say the hardest part was finding time (the chefs) could get together as we were trying to develop the curriculum,” she added with a laugh. “They’re not 8-to-5 folks.”
In the program for the 2019 graduation ceremony, there are nine chefs listed as instructors. Most have been involved from the start. Sipes said when the program was forming and she was making phone calls, every time she she spoke to a chef, they had spoken to a few more who had spoken to a few more.
“That part was probably the easiest, getting the chefs to come out of the woodwork to say, ‘I’m in,’” she said.
Sipes remembers the moment she knew they were all in. She and Robin Carson, also a program coordinator who helped form the program, had a meeting with the chefs. They were going over the curriculum and all the skills the students should have by graduation, which the chefs had suggested.
“Robin said the only way this works is if each of you teach one of these labs,” Sipes said.
There was about a 30-second pause, said Sipes, before one of the chefs said he wanted to do spices. Another said he wanted to do the meat.
“In three minutes’ time, they had all volunteered and all the sections were covered,” Sipes said. “It was amazing.”
FILLING A DEMAND
From a numbers standpoint, it was logical for the chefs to buy in. Travis Brust, the chef at the Williamsburg Inn, said when he moved to the area in 2004, there were about 90 restaurants or food venues in Williamsburg. Now there are more than 250.
“So you look at that and you look at the shortage that we have for cooks in this area,” he said. “We don’t have enough staff. We don’t have enough entry-level staff.”
Hans Schadler, chef at Waypoint Seafood & Grill, said he quickly realized the benefits such a program would bring, so his responsibilities went beyond the kitchen.
“My (initial) role was simply to initiate the enthusiasm and the excitement about the program, convincing chefs that it is a good program,” he said.
He has been very successful with that. The chefs’ enthusiasm and contributions have never waned. In addition to teaching courses, the chefs take on one of the students in a 15-week mentorship.
“Essentially, the only thing the restaurants get out of the program directly is the help,” Sipes said. “The chefs donate their time and then they hire the student so they get nothing for free. They give up plenty.”
TEACHERS AS WELL
While the chefs are passionate about their craft, they also are passionate about teaching it.
“The chefs that are involved in the program are ones that are really into educating and mentoring the people so that they will move forward, not only in culinary, but in their life,” said Scott Hoyland, chef at Blue Talon Bistro and Culture Café who has been there from the beginning.
Schadler is among those who enjoy the teaching aspect.
“Just basically having fun teaching young people the elements of culinary basics, hoping to inspire them to become professional chefs, not just a cook,” he said.
Added Brust: “The history I have with culinary arts has always been surrounded and based on education. … I’ve always been a huge proponent of culinary education.”
The students and chefs aren’t the only ones who benefit, so does the community.
“People constantly are struggling with staffing, not only in the restaurant industry, but everywhere,” Hoyland said. “Even if we can put one person in the workforce, we’ve done a good job. I think it betters the whole community.”
In three years, 27 students have graduated.
Still, it all comes back to the chefs. Carson drove home that point at the August graduation ceremony.
“We could not do this program without the support of the chefs,” she said in addressing the students, families and friends.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The next class begins in February 2020 (13 weeks of instruction followed by a 15-week paid mentorship at a local restaurant). The information sessions are held at Thomas Nelson’s Workforce Center on Ironbound Road in Williamsburg and last about 90 minutes. The third, and final, information session is scheduled for Oct. 24. (Registration opened in July.) Interviews will be held in mid-November, with accepted students being notified in December. The class is limited to 15 students.
Classroom and lab instruction are held at the Williamsburg Workforce Center and Warhill High School. Scholarships and other financial assistance are available for qualified candidates. For more financial information, call the Virginia Career Works office in Hampton at (757) 865-5800. For more information on the program, contact Allison Patterson at Pattersona@tncc.edu.
Chefs Hans Schadler and Stephen Perkins (Waypoint Seafood & Grill); Chef Jonathan Brown (The Trellis); Chef Scott Hoyland (Blue Talon Bistro and Culture Café); Chef Steven Sowell (The Hound’s Tale); Chef Travis Brust (The Williamsburg Inn); Chef Uwe Schluszas (Kingsmill Resort); Chef Renny Parziale (Guest Services); chef Keith Nickerson (Colonial Williamsburg); Kevin Early (WindsorMeade); Dennis Giang (Blue Talon Bistro); Pam Dannon (Williamsburg-James City County Schools); Elsa Bakkum (University of the South); Karen A. Dee (International Gourmet Foods); Laura Hardy (Peninsula Regional Education Program); Allison Patterson and Robin Carson (Thomas Nelson).