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EDIBLE EDUCATION

TMCC culinary program offers affordable experience.

WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO

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Query successful chefs on how they got to the top, and their answers likely will feature a mixture of in-the-trenches experience, exposure to knowledgeable mentors, and formal education. Fortunately, all three of these components are available in plentiful supply at Truckee Meadows Community College’s Culinary Arts Program in Reno.

Program coordinator Karen Cannan had 20 years of practical restaurant experience —from busser at a pizza joint to bar back, bookkeeper, hostess, manager, line cook, self-employed caterer and pastry chef in the industry — when she walked through the community college’s doors 22 years ago.

“I came to TMCC as a student and never left,” says chef Cannan, 55. “I had never taken the formal school route, but I found I was fond of the formal end of culinary training.”

Several respected TMCC culinary arts professors — George Skivofilakas and Reuel Smith — and local chef and TMCC culinary program supporter Joe Eidem saw Cannan’s potential and took her under their wings. Cannan not only finished her degree at TMCC (but and went on to the Culinary Institute of America in Napa), but also became an instructor and, later, the head of the program.

“Working evenings and weekends, I went into this industry to pay the electric bill, but now it’s turned into this great, meaningful career,” Cannan says. “I tell my students, ‘This career found me.’”

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Career training

The TMCC culinary program was launched in 1979 with a 1,200-square-foot kitchen classroom. Today, it boasts a state-of-the-art, 8,000-square-foot teaching kitchen that Cannan helped design.

A student can select several different academic trajectories, including a two-year associate of applied science degree in culinary arts and an 18-month certificate in culinary arts. New this year is a culinary arts entrepreneurial degree that prepares students to open their own restaurants, with courses on business planning, marketing, and financing.

The program’s affordable price tag is enticing to many students who want to explore the culinary world. At about $90 a credit, a student can earn a full associate’s degree for about $10,000, which is a fraction of the amount required at The CIA in St. Helena, Calif. What’s more, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts shuttered its California campus locations, so culinary education options are increasingly limited in our region. The TMCC program fills an important need.

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Various backgrounds

About 275 students enroll in the program in any given semester, but don’t expect to find the typical freshman-aged college student here, Cannan says.

“An 18-year-old is not our typical student; most of them are between 30 and 45,” she explains. “In our classrooms, you’ll find everything from a retired police officer to a mom who is looking for something meaningful outside the home, to a medical student who just wants to do something different.”

Student and teaching assistant Annie Yamamoto, 27, was an amateur baker and dissatisfied airline industry employee when she entered the program.

“I realized that I needed to find a career that I was passionate about,” recalls Yamamoto, who will graduate in the spring with an A.A.S. degree in culinary arts, as well as a baking and pastry certificate.

Representing TMCC, Yamamoto participated in the national SkillsUSA contest in commercial baking in Louisville, Ky., and ended up capturing first prize. Based on her contest win, Yamamoto was honored with a scholarship to study at The Culinary Institute of America.

“[The scholarship] sealed the deal for me reaching my dream career,” Yamamoto says.

She gives big props to her instructors at TMCC for their encouragement at every juncture.

“Our instructors are some of the most patient individuals I’ve ever met,” Yamamoto says. “They care about what they are teaching and aren’t afraid to push us to challenge ourselves because they know we are capable of more.”

Like Yamamoto, graduate Mariana Cole dabbled in other career paths before landing at TMCC. She studied English, psychology, and secondary education while working in restaurants.

“It was such a good fit for me for so many reasons,” says Cole, a full-time cake decorator/baker at Whole Foods Market in Reno and a TMCC culinary arts instructor. “First off, the price: I looked into other culinary schools, and it was absolutely unrealistic for me to go into so much debt.”

After graduating, Cole was happy to see her TMCC degree was worth every penny.

Local respect

“There are so many chefs in town who see a degree from TMCC on a résumé and know that the training we received is worth hiring for,” Cole says. “The program has also introduced me to many of the big-name chefs in town such as Mark Estee and Colin Smith. They are great supporters of our program, and I have worked for both of them because of my connection to the program.”

Cannan says the program is fortunate to have the support of local businesses when it comes to recruiting and hiring students.

“The local restaurants embrace hiring our students and raise them up through the ranks,” Cannan explains.

She says respected chefs attend the program’s career fairs and are frequent guest speakers.

“And now our past students who are in upper-level positions continue to contact us and recruit students,” Cannan says. “It is through this positive and continuous cycle we see so many success stories.”

For details, visit http://www.Tmcc.edu/culinary.

Ann Lindemann is a frequent contributor to edible Reno-Tahoe and her work can be found in a variety of regional and national publications.

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