Almost universally, culinary school applications are on the rise across the country. The culinary education trend is taking hold in Peoria as well, as evidenced by the addition of a Culinary Arts Work-Based Learning Program through Peoria Educational Region For Employment and Career Training (PERFECT).

"The program is designed to assist high school juniors and seniors interested in working in the hospitality industry by offering them a chance to learn food service both in the classroom and at a worksite," said PERFECT System Director Carol Leach. "Students enrolled in this two-year, work-based learning program study the fundamental elements of the food service industry including terminology, equipment identification and usage, information regarding types of foods and trends in the industry, communication skills, and basic preparation techniques. The students attend class and lab at the Illinois Central College North Campus two hours per day. Program participants also maintain paid internships at area restaurants."

Although the program has been in existence for several years, Leach said PERFECT started coordination and marketing two years ago. "Our regional work-based learning programs have all been developed based on the needs of individual industries and future employment opportunities."

According to PERFECT Special Projects Coordinator Susan Sherwood, the Culinary Arts Work-Based Learning Program is divided into three parts: classroom, food lab, and worksite. "Program instructors also incorporate activities to assist the students in building skills in communication, leadership, and teamwork."

Classroom instruction is based on the Professional Cooking textbook featuring Le Cordon Bleu curriculum and recipes, said Chef Charles Robertson, Culinary Arts Instructor at Illinois Central College. "In the Culinary Arts Lab, students receive hands-on food preparation training in an actual commercial kitchen setting. At the worksite, each student is required to obtain employment at an approved food service institution, where they work a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week. A mentor trains the student in various aspects of the food service industry with an emphasis on food preparation and the kitchen responsibilities of a chef and manager; mentors also provide evaluations."

"The program instructor issues student grades based on performance in lab, class, and worksite performance, and all students receive high school credit for participation in the program," said Chef Joy Ashwood, Illinois Central College Culinary Arts Instructor. "Upon successful completion of the two-year program, students receive three college credits for ICC's Professional Cooking course (CA150). Students may also qualify for ProStart Certification through the National Restaurant Association."

Sherwood said, "Students currently enrolled in the program attend culinary arts classes from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, throughout the school year. Program participants work closely with their instructors, employers, and counselors to balance academic coursework at their home high school with their internship hours and extracurricular activities. Most of the students take college prep classes and continue to build their academic skills in the culinary arts program through practical experiences."

Leach said students interested in the Culinary Arts Program must complete the program application available through their counselor's office. Eligibility requirements include:

Those who are accepted have the opportunity to gain real world experience in a chosen career area that isn't available in high schools, Leach said. "The students become more aware of the positive and negative aspects of the career and the educational and employment opportunities available. Ultimately, the community benefits from the students receiving a smoother transition into college and the workforce, as well as increased job satisfaction and career success. All of last year's program graduates are currently employed in the food service industry. Eighty percent are continuing their culinary education in college, and more than half received scholarships in culinary arts."

She said the staff at PERFECT takes great pride in providing quality career exploration opportunities to students throughout the region. "Students who participate in these programs leave high school with the ability to make career and educational decisions based on real world experience. Many of our high schools lack the resources to provide specialized opportunities to their students. Regional programs such as the Culinary Arts Work-Based Learning Program use combined resources from local business and educational entities to help insure career success for more students in central Illinois."

Because of its demonstrated success, she said the Culinary Arts Work-Based Learning Program will continue to grow and provide quality opportunities for students and to meet the needs of the food service industry in central Illinois. "We hope to build stronger relationships with area businesses and industry representatives to support these opportunities." AA!