Training tomorrow’s chefs
New culinary school up and running at conference center
Story and photos by Marian Galbraith
In its first semester, Chef Michael Osborne, director of the new culinary arts and hospitality tech school at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center, says it is off to a flying start.
Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center Chef Michael Osborne teaches students the importance of presentation during a recent class at the center. This group is the first batch of students to be enrolled in the joint Tennessee Technology Center program.
“I have seven superstars in my very first class,” Osborne said. “This is the best mix of students I’ve ever had, ranging in age from 18 to 38, and from all different walks of life.”
Osborne has been teaching culinary arts for several years, including classes through Nashville State Community College and as an adjunct teacher for the culinary co-op program through Coffee County High School.
Students are raving about the program so far, describing it as a “godsend,” and a “great opportunity,” in that it not only provides training and certification, but also bona fide work experience at an affordable price.
“We’re not just learning about cooking and prepping in a classroom,” said student Mitchell Ghea, a graduate of THS, “but we’re also getting hands-on work experience here, between 30 and 40 hours per week.”
According to Chef Osborne, the program is affordable at only $4,400 per year because it is a one-year program and the cost is designed to be consistent with those of other Tennessee Technology Center programs.
According to several of the students, this is less than one-tenth of the price of similar programs in Nashville, and most of the students are able to use Tennessee Hope Scholarship funds as well as federal Pell Grants, to help pay their tuition.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity,” said Jim Alexander, a 15-year veteran of the restaurant business who said he was already accepted into the culinary arts program at The Art Institute of Tennessee in Nashville when he found out about the program in Manchester.
“This is a great facility to train in, and it’s essentially free, if you have scholarship or grant funds, as opposed to paying $50,000 for the program at AI.”
The one-year program provides certification for students through the Tennessee Technology Center at McMinnville, where applications are currently being taken for up to 20 students per year.
Osborne said the program covers all facets of cooking and serving traditional and non-traditional cuisines, including southeast and American regional cuisines as well as Asian, European, and “fusions” of the above.
“Our competition cooking really helps students develop the skills sets to be fast, accurate, and sanitary in their work,” Osborne said.
“We also try to cover cost control, basic supervision and management and menu development, but most importantly, the program teaches employabililty skills.
“You can be a great cook or chef, but if you don’t know how to be a good employee, it won’t matter,” he said.
In addition to the seven post-secondary students, Osborne also takes in three high school students per semester in the afternoons from the culinary co-op program at Coffee County Central High School run by Susan Steele.
“So in essence, we have secondary and post-secondary students here at the same time, for parts of the program,” he said, “but it seems to be working out really well for everyone involved.”
Cristy McLemore, a long-term veteran of the catering business, said she heard about the program from an article in The Tullahoma News.
“I’d like to learn everything I can about how to run a catering operation, and my husband and I have also thought about opening our own restaurant someday,” she said, “but for now, I’m just excited to see where the program takes me.”