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Saint Paul College Cultivates Industry Pros With Revamped Program

Saint Paul College’s newly renovated culinary lab is a $1.47 million investment in the program.

Creating industry-ready cooks is what Saint Paul College’s Culinary Arts program aims to accomplish, said instructor Nathan Sartain, and the school’s newly updated culinary lab and redesigned curriculum are helping do just that. 

While others in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are cutting back on or even suspending culinary education offerings, Saint Paul College has made its program a priority, a fact most visible in the gleaming $1.47 million kitchen renovation. A collaborative learning space, the kitchen is loaded with new equipment and designed by Minneapolis-based Robert Rippe and Associates with student engagement in mind.

“The new space offers a forum to have that interaction with students and with the community,” said Sartain, a culinary arts instructor since 2005 and also the program director. “We’ve remained proactive about what we do. We’re perpetually analyzing what we do and how we can prepare students for today’s industry.”

Culinary student

A culinary arts student prepares appetizers in the new kitchen. 

Through that analysis came changes to the culinary curriculum, most notably an externship component to connect students with future employers and “elevate the caliber of the cohort” to maintain the program’s reputation.

“No. 1, students earn their chops while in culinary school,” said Sartain of the externships. “And No. 2, it substantiates what they’re learning in class. They seek out the place they want to work while we set them up for success.

“There’s a lot of exciting facets to the industry, and not just with restaurants,” he continued. “Healthcare foodservice, school foodservice … entrepreneurial jobs like starting a food truck. We teach cooks really to role their sleeves up. Our cooks are industry ready.”

Expanded course offerings in organic and sustainable cuisine and new pastry components, along with updates to the wine program, were also part of the revamp. There’s extra focus on front-of-the-house operations as well, Sartain said. The associate degree and diploma programs are accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation.

Sartain credited the “vibrant and passionate” culinary arts faculty with the continued success of the program, while also noting the education begins even before students enroll. 

“Our focus is on communicating to the individual so they have an accurate set of expectations,” he explained. “When we do recruiting, we don’t sugarcoat anything. We let them know it’s not as cutthroat as ‘Kitchen Nightmares,’ and it’s not as glamorous as what’s on the Food Network.”

Potential students can learn more about the program and visit the new culinary lab at upcoming winter information sessions: Saturday, November 14, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and Thursday, December 10, from 5-7 p.m., both at the college’s City View Grille (235 Marshall Ave., St. Paul). 

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