Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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    Laney Takes the Cake — Laney’s culinary students show off exceptional skills

    Photos and article by Michelle Snider

    Photo used for cover art

    The smell of herbs, roasting meats, and freshly cut vegetables mingle in the air as students can be heard shuffling around the kitchen saying “behind,” which is a notice to other cooks to be careful as they quickly walk through the crowded space.

    A student prepares dough for an herb-filled gnocchi that will be served at the Student Center. The meal program allows students to explore a variety of cooking techniques.

    Downstairs from the Student Center, culinary students arrive around 9:15 a.m. on school days to prepare chef-quality meals for Laney students, faculty and staff lunches. On Nov. 14, instructors for the Culinary Arts Department detailed what is so valuable about the culinary programs, which prepare students to become first-class chefs.

    Freshly made napoleons await Pastry Chef instructor Lorriann Raji’s review. Napoleons are a French pastry made with intricate sheets of crisp sweet pastry sandwiched between layers of pastry cream. After completing a degree at Laney College, certified pastry chefs can make up to six-figure salaries in the culinary field, where specialized workers are in high demand.

    Culinary Arts instructor Lawrence Jackson has worked many years at what he calls “white tablecloth” restaurants. His attentive guidance to culinary arts students shows through in his, quick yet, patient manner.

    Jackson said students who complete Culinary Arts leave the program ready to work for the same sort of high-quality restaurants that he did.

    “The opportunities for jobs are vast as the industry is booming,” Jackson said. “Employers will hire anyone standing with a knife in their hand.”

    The problem with working in the restaurant industry without certification and a degree, Jackson said, is that people get pigeonholed as line-cooks and dishwashers. Those with a degree can potentially work up the trade ladder faster, which can pay off in the long run.

    Instructor Jackson helps students prep to start the days daily cooking for the student center.

    “Students in the culinary arts program learn management skills,” he said. “They can be sous chefs, or better yet, head chefs. That is a big difference in pay.”

    Walk into the bakery and pastry kitchen, the smell of soft buttery dough and sweet vanilla as notes of citrus permeate the air.

    Students are fast on their feet to complete their daily projects, which are reviewed on a shared table by 11 a.m.

    Pastry Chef instructor Lorriann Raji also tells of a high need for talented chefs, who can be (eventually) paid upwards of six figures, and find employment immediately once they complete the program.

    A culinary arts student carefully assembles a “croquen-en-bouche.” Students are allocated only two hours for prep before submitting their projects for evaluation.

    Foundational techniques, such as managerial, safety, sanitation, and nutrition are taught, Raji said.

    Full-time students can earn a certificate in either Baking and Pastry or Restaurant Management and Cooking. A one-year, 14-unit course for a Certificate of Proficiency in Cooking is also available.

    “The two certificate programs (majors) in this department provide students with the knowledge, skills, and experience that will enhance successful employment in the various career paths available in the Culinary Arts industry,” the Laney website reads.

    “What we give people is a career, not just a job,” Raji said. “The difference between a career and a job, and a career that can have you move up quickly, so you can earn more faster. The more you can do, then the more valuable you are to an employer.”

    A culinary student turns a steak for the fajita lunch later that afternoon. The culinary arts program provides affordable meals at the student center Monday through Friday.

    Students in the Baking and Pastry major can become pastry chefs, cake decorators, bread bakers, chocolatiers, candy makers, dessert platters and ice cream makers.

    “It starts with passion,” she said. “If you are not passionate, you won’t make it. A lot of our students are already working in this industry doing what they love.”

    Students in the Culinary Department that use the cafeteria get a significant discount on food and drinks, as long as they are in full uniform, and also have a chance to purchase the food they prepare in the program at a discount, said Javante “Chicago” Thompson, a teaching assistant and recent graduate of the program.

    He explained that first- and second-semester cooking students are preparing food for the cafeteria in the Student Center, and third- and fourth-semester students are cooking in the Bistro.

    Pastry students similarly spend their first three semesters making everything from cookies to cheesecake to candy for the cafeteria before moving on to learn plating techniques in the fourth semester for the Bistro.

    And what of the students who want to work in the culinary program but may not eat certain foods for any reason?

    “If there’s a dietary restriction, we work around that,” Thompson said. “People are vegan, or some people don’t eat pork, and we have substitutes for those things. You’re never forced to make or taste anything you don’t want to.”

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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