From ‘cook’ to chef
10.09.2015 | By Rob Vanya
San Jacinto College culinary arts student Tuderia Bennett, left, receives helpful guidance from Ernest Becerra, San Jacinto College restaurant management program director, while working in one of the College’s culinary training kitchens. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.
San Jacinto College provides an edge for student training in culinary arts
When the new Deer Park HEB store opens in November, San Jacinto College culinary arts student Tuderia Bennett will be on hand in the store’s Cooking Connection, mixing smiles with delicious ingredients to serve up epicurean extravaganzas.
As a Cooking Coach Specialist for HEB, Bennett gets to do what he loves best: pleasing others with his culinary skills. “To cook and just see the expression on others peoples faces is what I live for,” he commented. “To get the satisfaction of getting a ‘wow’ is amazing. It hits my heart and makes me feel good. It means as much to me for a stranger to admire my food as much as an experienced chef.”
Bennett has been fascinated with all things culinary since childhood. “Our family was pretty much raised on our Mamaws cooking,” he remarked. “She was 100 percent Cajun and she cooked as such. As a child, I loved being in the kitchen and smelling dirty rice, pinto beans, garlic stuffed roasts, and anything and everything in between. There wasn’t a single thing that woman cooked that someone disliked. I soaked in everything she told me and found my own passion for food.”
Bennett loves the natural interconnection of food, family, friends, and fellowship. “I love how food brings people together,” he said. “Family is what brought my passion for food alive, and I will strive to pass that on to my son and anyone else who has the desire to learn.”
After graduating from Deer Park High School, Bennett enrolled at San Jacinto College where he found the perfect place for professional culinary training that enables him to improve daily in a highly competitive career field.
“I love the teacher/student interaction at San Jacinto College,” he said. “We are a tight-knit family. The instructors are awesome and continually help you to be a better chef. They are very down-to-earth teachers and the door is always open. They want you to succeed in this industry because they know the possibilities are endless and you can have an impact everywhere you go.”
Bennett plans to earn an associate degree in culinary arts from San Jacinto College in 2016, and then tentatively plans to enroll in the University of Houston’s country club management program.
Bennett is supplementing the professional culinary training he receives at San Jacinto College with real-world working experience. In addition to working part-time at HEB’s Cooking Connection, he works as a cook at Main Street Steakhouse in Danbury.
His ultimate career goal is to be a self-employed chef. “I love the idea of getting into the food truck world and bringing a little something different,” Bennett commented. “As an avid hunter, angler, and lover of the outdoors, I want to bring some wild game taste to people who have not tasted things like wild hog, dove, deer, and duck.”
Ernest Becerra, San Jacinto College culinary arts chef training/restaurant management program director, says that someone like Bennett with a natural love for cooking can greatly increase his or her career possibilities and earning capacity with professional training. Becerra knows that all restaurants employ “cooks,” but says there are significant advantages for those who attend college for specialized culinary arts training. “San Jacinto College is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation,” Becerra said. “Through such a professionally accredited program, our students go through extensive training under experienced chefs, which equips them for moving up the ranks in any kitchen. They also learn to create and implement full and varied menus, which opens endless culinary career opportunities.”
The job outlook for culinary arts graduates in the Houston region remains strong, according to Texas Workforce Commission employment data. The average income for chefs and head cooks in the region is $21.83 per hour, or $45,406 per year.
An emerging career opportunity for culinary arts graduates is in-store cooking and sampling centers. HEB Unit Director Eddy Holleman says he can rely on San Jacinto College for well-trained culinary arts graduates as employees in HEB’s popular Cooking Connection sampling centers. “I will hire any student recommended by the College’s culinary arts faculty, knowing the student will be a good fit,” he commented. “Our staff at the Pasadena store is all from San Jacinto College, and they are the best. In fact, the Pasadena store Cooking Connection manager is ranked as one of the best in the company. In the new store that opens in November, the Cooking Connection manager will be a San Jacinto College graduate, and there will also be two other partners that are currently attending the College. The college has been a great partner for HEB.”
For more information about culinary and pastry arts training at San Jacinto College, 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.