Culinary training changes amid Covid

Enrollment in the culinary arts program at Hawaii's Kapiolani Community College has grown during the pandemic. (Photo: KapCC)

Chefs are used to making changes on the fly. So when the pandemic hit and culinary instruction had to move online at Kapiolani Community College (KapCC), John Richards didn’t panic. 

Richards is the dean of career and technical education at the University of Hawaii Community College and is a certified executive chef. He and instructors in the culinary arts program quickly developed an alternative curriculum over spring break that would still allow students to meet competencies. For hands-on instruction, food kits were created. Students would stop by the college once a week at staggered times to pick up the kits, and then get instruction over Zoom. 

This is an excerpt from an article in the current issue of Community College Journal, which the American Association of Community Colleges has published for more than 90 years. 

Richards credits instructors for their innovation and adaptability. 

“That’s a chef’s life: we have to figure it out and get it done,” Richards says. 

Despite the closure, KapCC also was able to offer some on-campus internships for culinary students. More changes came in late summer and early fall. In August, the college shifted into hybrid mode, which allowed for some hands-on learning on campus. 

But then Hawaii went on a shutdown as Covid numbers rose. The college pivoted again for almost a month in full virtual mode. 

In early October, the state was released from the stay-at-home order, and KapCC went back into the hybrid mode for the fall semester. 

Cascading impact

Pre-pandemic, there were 300 to 400 degree and certificate students in the culinary arts program. Enrollment trended down because of the booming restaurant and tourism industry and the shortage of culinary and hospitality workers. People could find work without needing training at college. 

Now, that’s changed. Hawaii’s tourism industry has suffered due to Covid. Restaurants are struggling. Richards says he doesn’t see a “clear pathway” forward yet. 

“If we keep going back and forth from partial opening to shutdown over the next year, I believe we’re going to lose 60-70% of restaurants.” 

But enrollment in the culinary arts program is up. 

“People in Hawaii know this isn’t forever. The restaurant industry will come roaring back. Many are passionate about this. It’s not just a job; it’s a calling,” Richards says. 

Time to innovate

While staff and faculty have been rethinking coursework, they’re also using this time to think beyond the pandemic, and how to best serve students and the industry. 

“We’re spending a lot of time putting cooks into an unsure industry,” especially an industry that doesn’t necessarily provide high wages, Richard says. “We’re looking at other training models to rapidly train cooks in a non-credit program,” such as students going to work sooner and later return for certificates or a degree. 

Richards also is considering what the future demand for culinary looks like, and how to train people for research and development, partnerships with farmers, and food security and resiliency. And because Hawaii imports 80% of what is consumed, food sovereignty is another issue on his mind. 

“This is the time to innovate,” he says. 

Planning for the future

The University of Hawaii Community College System also is about 18 months out from opening the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head. The institute will provide professional culinary education that offers associate degrees and certificates in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, as well as a third-year professional certificate in culinary arts. It will include a restaurant, innovation center and multiple specialty laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment. The hope is that it will attract students and chefs from all over the world. 

In terms of the hospitality and tourism programs, Richards says he’s part of “high-level discussions on how we can bring back the tourism industry as quickly as possible.” 

He says it’ll likely take about four years for the tourism industry to get back to what it was in Hawaii. 

“It’s survival of the fittest while business trickles back in,” he says.

Read the full article in the current issue of CC Journal.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.