COOKING, COLLABORATION, & COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Rockland Community College (RCC) has reinvented their Hospitality & Culinary Arts Program, and their grade is an A+.
Located on the corner of Main Street and North Broadway, the RCC Hospitality and Culinary Arts Center offers students a chance to begin a career in the booming Hospitality Industry. The 2 year AAS degree or the 1 year certificate program is designed for students right out of high school or those individuals that might be looking for a career change.
Program Director and instructor, Chef Chris Spezial, has over 40 years of experience in hospitality and running restaurants. A Nyack local, Spezial, is making sure that students are not only coming out of the program workforce ready but also with a strong sense of community.
The center, which was home or Orange & Rockland, and eventually, of Presidential Life, has been completely renovated and now hosts a state-of-the art learning kitchen, classroom space, a theater-style lecture hall with demo-kitchen and café and market which is open to the public.
After one year, student can graduate with a Culinary Arts Certificate with the skills they need to go directly into the industry. Chef Spezial says. “With the culinary certificate they are coming out with a very well-rounded education”
Beyond that, in many cases, as they go through the curriculum they get a glimpse of what is possible and the value of continuing their education and decide to go on and get their associates degree. “What they are seeing, once they start the program, is all these incredible courses we are offering, restaurant and beverage management, event planning, catering, and say, maybe I should stay for another year. It’s been a great way to introduce students to education and furthering their career”
The curriculum incorporates a lot more than just skill of cooking. “We do not just teach how to cook and chop students also learn about where the food comes from and about sustainability,” says Spezial.
Zero food waste is one of the Program’s mantras. The students learn to create leftovers purposefully, store leftovers smartly and think ingredients not leftovers.
“We are almost at zero food waste”, boasts Spezial. What does that mean? It means scraps and trimming do not get thrown out but instead get turned into stocks and soups that are help feed the homeless population in Nyack. To go one step further, everything after that goes to the Nyack public schools for their organic compost garden.
For Chef Spezial, it is all about “collaborating”. Students learn the importance of collaborating with organizations such as Meals on Wheels and working closely with their local farmers’ markets. The program also stresses the necessity for students to give back to their community.
The students support the Soup Angels, an organization which offers healthy, home-cooked meals to anyone in need in the Nyack area. Hundreds of meals are sent out to agencies around Rockland County such as Headstart, the Martin Luther King Center in Spring Valley and the Nyack Senior Center. “More than anything they are walking out of school ‘getting it’ and having the willingness to do this in their future. They are walking out a little kinder. It is rewarding as an educator,” said Spezial.
Community involvement is another cornerstone of the Hospitality & Culinary Arts Program. The Hudson Market on Main is a perfect example of a marriage between culinary collaboration and community involvement.
The Market which opened to the public in October is located on the street level of the school and features a 45-seat cafe managed by Flik Hospitality which an assortment of soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts. “The goal is for students to collaborate with the hospitality leader, Flik, and to have them gain the industry knowledge and experience of running a business,” said Spezial. “That means some of the food students make during their classes will be a part of the cafe's offerings. The Market also features retail items from vendors sourced from the Hudson Valley, a key component of the college's curriculum.”
There are cheeses from 5 Spoke Creamery in Goshen and Nettle Meadow in Warrensburg; sauces, salsas and produce from Hudson Valley Harvest in Kingston; maple syrup from the Catskills Mountain Sugar House in Grahamsville; coffee beans from Java Love in Suffern; and vegan desserts from Greyston Bakery in Yonkers. A pop-up restaurant, also run by students, is planned for spring 2020. “The culinary center is also a wonderful community resource,” said Mark Davidoff, Interim Coordinator of Nyack Extension Site. “With the professional teaching kitchen, we are now able to offer cooking classes for all ages and recipe demonstrations showcasing Hudson Valley foods, beverages and local ingredients.”