San Jac Certified: Culinary graduate comes full circle
07.21.2015 | By Rob Vanya
Andrea Huerta graduated from San Jacinto College in 2007 and now serves as a culinary arts and pastry chef instructor at the College. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.
Andrea Huerta talks about keys to success in culinary arts
What does it take to get started, and then succeed, in the competitive career field of culinary arts?
Above all, it takes an attitude of service above self. So says Andrea Huerta, who earned a culinary arts degree from San Jacinto College in 2007, and now serves as a full-time culinary arts and pastry chef instructor at the College.
Huerta should know. The San Jac Certified graduate and teacher has been “in the trenches” in the restaurant business, working as a line cook and other positions at Pappasito’s, and at Pappa’s Seafood House. She also worked as a pastry chef at two upscale private clubs – the Briar Club, and River Oaks Country Club – before returning to her alma mater to devote her skills to training others in culinary and pastry arts.
“To succeed in culinary arts, a person must take every job seriously, and do your best at every level,” Huerta commented. “On the ‘hot side’ of the business (which is where most start out), you are going to begin at a lower position, such as fry cook. Be the best fry cook in the restaurant. Be prepared. Be on time. Managers will see that, and they will appreciate that, and that is how you can move up in the ranks.”
Culinary arts is all about service, putting the customer first, and Huerta says students who expect entitlement or preferential treatment upon graduation generally do not last. “There are some who graduate and think ‘Oh, I already have a degree, and I don’t want to work at lower level positions.’ They want to immediately advance to the top,” she said. “But, you have to start at the bottom. If you prove yourself at lower positions, then you will not stay there. And there’s something to be learned at every entry-level job.”
Culinary arts was not Huerta’s first career choice. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of St. Thomas, and worked for a while in the psychology career field. “I learned that psychology was just not the right fit for me,” she said. “So I decided to return to my first love. I had fond childhood memories of asking my mom if I could chop vegetables and help her prepare meals. I would pretend I was running my own restaurant. I have always liked being creative and hands-on, just everything about food preparation. So, I decided to enroll at San Jacinto College’s culinary arts program to pursue a childhood dream. I now know it was the right choice.”
After earning her culinary arts degree, Huerta did not actively pursue a career as an educator, but gradually realized she might do well as a teacher. “During the years I worked at restaurants, and then at the two private clubs, there were times when fellow workers said to me ‘I am learning so much from you,’” she commented. “I began to realize that perhaps I have a natural knack as an educator. So, when a teaching position came open at San Jacinto College, I decided to apply, and here I am. Though I am new to teaching, I believe I am going to like it.”
Huerta’s favorite part of culinary arts is that it offers plenty of variety. “There is so much diversity, and you are never bored,” she commented. “A person can get into catering, working in restaurant management, or as an executive chef. Then there is the pastry side of the business, which I especially like because of the creativity and variety. People in every area of culinary arts are always experimenting and learning new techniques.”
San Jacinto College offers a wide range of culinary arts courses and degree options at the North and Central campuses. For more information, please visit sanjac.edu/career/culinaryrestaurant-management.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.