(WACO, Texas) – Now is a good time to enter the culinary arts field because there is a need for skilled workers.
“I have never seen such a staffing shortage across the board right now, whether it is cooks, front of house, or food runners,” said Kyle Citrano, president of the Waco Restaurant Association and managing partner of George’s Restaurant and Bar No. 2 in Hewitt.
Citrano said Texas State Technical College’s Culinary Arts students and graduates should thrive as good cooks or servers.
“There is a need and shortage, and they have all of that in their favor,” he said. “They can go into a restaurant tomorrow, and someone would probably hire them.”
Michele Brown, lead instructor in TSTC’s Culinary Arts program in Waco, said students and graduates need to look at benefits and how the business of their choice is going to help advance their careers.
Brown cited a budding partnership with Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Round Rock, which has recently hired students and graduates of TSTC’s Culinary Arts programs in East Williamson County and Waco.
“The nice thing about working with a group like Kalahari is they have more than one property,” she said.
Dorothy Lentis, a 2013 graduate of TSTC’s Culinary Arts program and owner of Alpha Omega Grill and Bakery in Waco, said students and graduates need to have patience and become good at multitasking. She said this and other skills can be learned with lots of practice and a culinary arts education.
“(At TSTC) we had to plate all the food we made in a professional manner that could be sold in a restaurant,” Lentis said. “We were judged on knife cuts, the gelatinousness of the sauce, the presentation and, of course, the taste.”
Citrano said restaurants in the Waco area felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said not every restaurant had the ability to offer to-go and delivery options while still maintaining food quality, as well as health and safety standards.
He said that since George’s reopening after being closed for six weeks due to the pandemic, the restaurant has been affected by shortages in staffing and the availability of meats and other goods. But he said patrons’ support for the restaurant is still high.
“The staff is making the best money they have probably made working here,” he said.
TSTC’s Culinary Arts program has had to adapt to the pandemic by offering to-go meals to on-campus faculty, staff and students in lieu of in-person dining. The program’s students have also learned to adapt to the changing pandemic situation.
“They can go out and do whatever is thrown at them,” Brown said. “They have shown their leadership skills this semester.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected more than 158,000 chefs and head cooks will be needed by 2029. This will be driven by restaurant patrons who want high-quality, healthier meals.
In May 2020, Texas had 4,900 chefs and head cooks earning an annual mean wage of more than $57,000, according to the federal labor statistics agency.
Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu.