Since the start of the pandemic, your local restaurant has been missing an ingredient.
According to Mare Island Brewing Company founder Kent Fortner, the drop in jobs – including those for line cooks and prep cooks – is around 50%.
“The demand for restaurant workers is there, but a lot of people have moved for a variety of reasons,” Fortner said. “I think ultimately people were too tired of waiting for restaurants to reopen, so they moved on,” Fortner said, adding that a lot of people wanted to get into the restaurant business, but the problem was that they had no experience.
Step into the just-completed “Commercial Cooking Intro Class” with eight initial students at the Vallejo Adult School. Mare Island Brewing Co. has partnered with a number of other restaurants (Provisions, Bambino’s Zio Fraedoe’s, Paradise Valley) and the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Workforce Development Council de Solano and the Vallejo City Unified School District to hold four weeks of classes — a pair of three-hour classes each week.
Fortner said there are programs like this in other counties, but this is a first in Solano County.
“We need to do more to provide a path to gainful employment for young people and citizens of Vallejo and Solano,” he said. “It was an opportunity to combine state funding and educational expertise with a program to quickly produce enthusiastic students, with the high likelihood that there will be jobs waiting at the end.”
Fortner emphasized that this is not a “cooking class” but rather an introduction to the pace, schedules and world of commercial kitchens, which is very different from preparing recipes at home. home. “Asking someone from scratch and showing them a commercial kitchen, basic knife skills, and getting their state-given ‘food handler card’ is hugely time-consuming for restaurants. “
“This class is a way for people who think they’re interested to find out if the kitchen environment is the right place for them,” Fortner continued. “They learn all the apps and code words you use in a kitchen. I had to laugh when I saw it written on paper, but there are about six pages of slang words you need to know when working in the kitchen.
“You find out that the kitchen is a very unique environment and whether or not it’s for them,” Fortner said. People who attend and complete the course can obtain their food handler card, which is sometimes difficult to obtain. A lot of times in the restaurant business we hire someone and then tell them they have to get a food manager card within 60 days and we end up losing them. It seems like we’re always spinning wheels – building people up and then losing them. Train people and then lose them. Again and again.”
Chef Allen Calhoun of the Napa Unified School District, where he teaches high school culinary arts, helped with the class. Calhoun is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a teacher at American Canyon High. Others, like Provisions owner Nicole Hodge, came to speak or watch various classes and answer questions from students.
“I went to second grade just to see how it was going and was really impressed with the student engagement with Allen (Calhoun),” Fortner said. “He has this great energy and likes to call the people who work in the kitchen his ‘beloved pirates’. He really wears that badge of honor on his sleeve.
The class ended with a “job fair” last Thursday. It was designed as if it were “speed dating”, but allowed all the students to come to each of the restaurants (gathered in one room) for an initial 10-minute interview.
“It should lead to a lot of internships and has the added benefit of providing students with interview experience,” Fortner said. “As part of the classroom curriculum, Chef Allen works with students on resume development and job search and job start skills.”
“Look, the jury is still out on the end results of this and whether students will continue to seek restaurant jobs,” Fortner said. “But I’m confident that after eight lessons of three hours each, they will continue to carry on in the field. Not everyone is designed to go to university and there is so much money available for people If you know how to cook, you can always use it to work anywhere in the world.
A new class will resume on August 15 and begin in early September.