(AUSTIN, Texas) – The Renaissance Austin Hotel on Arboretum Boulevard has a need for kitchen staff, and it has been looking to Texas State Technical College’s Culinary Arts program to fill some of those positions.
Current TSTC students Francisco Delatorre, of Round Rock, and Jacob Johnson, of Pflugerville, along with soon-to-be-returning student Melanie Robnett, of Austin, began working in the hotel’s kitchen in May. The students work full time, five days a week.
“It has been good,” said Kent Hargrove, the hotel’s executive chef. “They are very young, and they are very green. Personally, I prefer that. They are moldable, and they are very open to suggestions and learning techniques.”
Students hard at work
Delatorre cooks on the kitchen’s hot-food line and works with plate presentation.
“It is not the same old thing,” he said. “I am learning way more stuff daily.”
He said he is able to combine what he learns in the program and at the hotel to make himself better daily.
“Sometimes I forget where I am, but then I remember that I actually made it to a professional kitchen,” Delatorre said. “If it was not for TSTC, I would not be able to make it here.”
Johnson works with cold food, which includes cutting fruit and preparing salads for banquets and buffets.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s cool. Everyone is super nice, and they are willing to answer my questions. Learning is a given here.”
Johnson said he has to adjust to the amount of food being worked with in the kitchen to feed, at times, hundreds of people at once. He sometimes listens to music as he fulfills his kitchen assignments.
“It is almost calming,” he said. “If I know I will be cutting fruit for two hours, there is nothing on my mind except cutting fruit. It is almost Zen.”
Robnett plans to continue working on a certificate of completion in the Culinary Arts program in 2024. Meanwhile, she works in the pastry section of the hotel’s kitchen, baking cookies and making flour tortillas, desserts and other treats. She said she is grateful for the opportunity to learn from more experienced chefs.
“I have learned how to do bigger batches and make them a lot quicker, and how to plate for presentation,” Robnett said.
Inside the kitchen
Hargrove said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were about 75 people on his staff. Now he has about 25 on his staff, with positions open for cooks, stewards, and staff to work with purchasing.
“I have a whole department that is not open yet because I don’t have the staff,” he said.
Hargrove said to be successful in his kitchen, applicants and employees need to have a sense of urgency.
“They need to understand the timeline and the crunch of when the restaurant is busy, knowing when you speed it up to roll faster,” he said.
He said the kitchen’s job openings are not unique to his hotel. He said other chefs he has talked to in Austin are having similar challenges.
TSTC is available to help
Hargrove has visited the Culinary Arts program before and said he liked seeing the personal attention that the students receive in small classes.
Hunter Henry, a TSTC Career Services associate at the East Williamson County campus, has played a big role in connecting the hotel to the Culinary Arts program.
“Working with the team at the Renaissance Austin Hotel has been a pleasure,” he said. “They care about fostering a great culture, and that is one of the reasons why so many of our students and graduates have enjoyed working there over the years.”
The Culinary Arts program’s instructors are pleased with what their students are learning at the hotel.
“Having the Renaissance as an employer has been great for our students,” said Chasey Davis, a program instructor. “They take pictures of the food they make there and show us how they are getting their education there and here.”
Brian Bohannon, the program’s lead instructor, said the students’ being hired at the hotel speaks to the quality of the program.
“They are becoming industry leaders and are paving the way for future culinary professionals,” he said.
Registration continues for the fall semester at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu.