Bon Appétit

COD’s Culinary Arts Program Provides Expert Training for Coachella Valley’s Largest Industry.

Students from across California come to study at College of the Desert, eager to train under a team of dynamic chefs who lead the highly accredited Culinary Arts program. Designed to prepare current and future working line cooks and chef apprentices, the program offers 19 core courses for students desiring personal enrichment, enhanced skills and professional qualifications to support the Valley’s thriving industry.

Every aspect of this fast-moving field is covered under one roof. As students progress through the program, training for careers in food service and hospitality, they explore the finer points of pastry and baking, the nuances of flavors and aromatics and the science behind whole food natural cooking. All the while, they are perfecting their knife skills and learning their way around the massive equipment and storage techniques of a high-production commercial kitchen.

While some students enroll in the Culinary Arts program with prior restaurant or kitchen experience, others are starting from scratch. Requiring a Classic Chef uniform for some portions of the program elevates the mindset of all students to regard themselves as future professionals.

Comprehensive training at three levels (entry, intermediate and advanced) delves into cost control, catering and general nutrition in readying them for all facets of the culinary world. A course on Culture and Cuisine even examines geographical, historical, technological and religious factors that influence food-related behaviors of various ethnic groups. The Advanced Cooking class links culture to indigenous ingredients, major flavors, cooking styles and national dishes across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, India and the Caribbean.

Chef Isidro Hernandez, Culinary Lab Technician at COD shares: “Without formal training, those currently working in the industry may not fully understand all safety and sanitation aspects as well as how to figure profit margins so your restaurant can stay afloat. That is why I went through the program myself and am blessed now to teach.” COD’s Associate Degree in Culinary Management provides training for management careers and emphasizes intermediate-level cooking and baking, safety and sanitation, food procurement and menu planning. Specialized computer skills necessary to earn positions in hotel and restaurant management are also part of the curriculum.

Originally from Mexico and a resident of California for 25 years, Chef Hernandez attended COD in the 1980s to learn how to speak English while dishwashing and bussing tables. In 1983, Chef John Lewis at Wally’s Desert Turtle gave him a chance to learn the renowned art of French cooking. Hernandez diligently honed his skills on the job for 15 years, eventually becoming Wally’s Executive Sous Chef. Hernandez went on to become the Executive Chef for Desert Falls Country Club and The Springs. It was his calling to advance his education in 2016 that led him back to earn his associate degree at COD. Upon graduation, the Culinary Lab Technician position opened and he leapt at the chance to develop future chefs at his alma matter.

“Our students have incredible instructors who are working in today’s industry and can give valuable insight,” shares Hernandez. “Restaurants, hotels, country clubs and casinos are vying for our students because they know they are well-trained and understand the full scope of running a kitchen, down to ensuring that every penny is spent in the most productive way.”

“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for what the COD Foundation does for our students” shares Chef Isidro Hernandez. As a scholarship student myself, I could never have afforded to go back to school. Through the plEDGE scholarship program, our students now have the opportunity to gain an incredible head start on their careers and attain their degree faster so they can make their mark in the industry faster.”

“My journey to become a chef was inspired by cooking with my mom,” shares Chef Calvin Yeap, Baking Instructor and Pastry Chef for The Tropicale Restaurant in Palm Springs. “I loved the excitement and satisfaction when my relatives loved what we prepared.” After considering the paths to becoming a veterinarian or going into finance, Yeap attended Cypress College and went on to study at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Throughout his journey as a Pastry Chef for Five Diamond hotels, elite New York restaurants and esteemed country clubs, Yeap made his way across the country and landed in Palm Springs.

“I love the adrenaline and excitement of the fast-paced restaurant life, which I have shared with all of my COD students over the past five years,” he says. “I teach them the importance of having their ‘mise en place,’ essentially having everything in its place, so they can be prepared and most successful in working in the heart of the restaurant. I see that the lightbulb goes on and they understand the full technique. Our students go on to work at the best hotels or open up their own bakeries. And they reach out to me constantly to share their successes and show appreciation for the knowledge they have learned. It really moves and motivates me to give more of my time and energy to the next student.”

As part of a recent Legacy Gift from the late Nancy Bonner, she left a generous donation to the COD Culinary Arts program to support students who share the same passion for cooking that she had. After an incredible corporate career working with GE, Financial Manpower, Finance One and Transamerica, Bonner decided to get her AA degree in Culinary Management from College of the Desert. After graduation, she began catering parties and preparing meals for private jet travel. In 2003, she became a personal chef for Former President and Mrs. Gerald Ford, for whom she worked until she retired to spend time with her family. The COD Foundation thanks Nancy Bonner for leaving a Legacy Gift in her will to support future COD Culinary Arts students.

To learn how you can leave a Legacy Gift or support the Culinary Arts program, please call Director of Development, Matt Durkan, at 760.773.2561 or email mdurkan@collegeofthedesert.org.

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