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Cooking in the Kitchen with Chef Hernandez by Noah Pagella

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Passaic County Community College offers a wide array of programs tailored to getting their students ready for the workforce. The school offers degrees from accounting to theater, however one of its most prestigious programs is their culinary arts degrees.

The culinary program started at PCCC in the fall of 2016, and is taught in the kitchens of the Wanaque campus. The school's culinary program offers degrees in culinary arts, hospitality management, and pastry and baking arts.

(Photos courtesy of Chef Louis Hernandez)

The culinary arts program is meant to teach its students not just how to cook, but how to overall work in a restaurant, that means how to work in the kitchen, to wait tables, and how to manage a restaurant.

The program is headed by Chef Louis Hernandez who teaches restaurant management and the culinary courses. Some of the specific classes taught in Chef Hernandez’s course are International Cuisine, Contemporary Fusion Cuisine, and Dining Room Service.

“In the dining room service class I teach them how to set up the tables, how to lay down the table cloths, how the chairs are numbered, how to take orders, how to carry the plates, and how to serve from the right,” said Chef Hernandez regarding the specifics of his service class.

This course is meant to teach its students to work in all roles within high end restaurant settings.

Chef Hernandez added, “I think we gear toward fine dining, but a lot of our students find a job that they’re happy with and that's what they take.”

“We have students in restaurants, we have students in bakeshops…one student who came to visit us works at ShopRite who really loves her job there-- she's doing cake decorating.”

Students who partake in the culinary program get many opportunities to work in actual restaurant kitchens through internships. Students have gotten opportunities to work in bakeries, catering companies, pizza places, and many more.

Chef Hernandez said that all culinary arts students are guaranteed these internships, and that many of these internships have led to these students receiving jobs.

“We’ve been very fortunate, because with Covid a lot of restaurants took a hit. They have had a hard time finding employees, so a lot of our employees have been hired by them. They go to the internship site and they get hired right away.”

PCCC’s culinary program is well known in the food industry, many restaurants come to the school seeking out employees straight out of the culinary program. “Before we even had our first graduating class I would get 5 to 10 calls a semester from people looking for people to hire. They like to look for people wit

h some experience. Whether it’s culinary or baking or pastry, they want somebody," said Chef Hernandez.

Chef Hernandez gave a lot of credit to his fellow instructors, as he was able to hire chef instructors from the New York Restaurant School, and from the art institute. He mentioned that his fellow chefs have years of experience to back them as chefs and educators.

“We're fortunate that we have 3 chefs here that have masters degrees, that’s a big plus for us.”

The culinary program is meant to prepare its students for the workforce, however everybody takes what they learn and applies it differently.

“We train them well whether they accept the training or not is up to them; you’re only as good as what you’re willing to do. If you practice your skills and you go out onto an internship site and they see you know what you’re doing they will most likely hire you right away.”

“There's a lot to this, it’s not just cooking, it's being able to follow the recipe and being able to come out with a product that people can eat. And you have to treat the food safely so that your clients don’t get sick. If one person gets sick they tell everybody, if people love your food they’ll tell two or three people.”

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