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A Career Path To Savor

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Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 12:00 am | Updated: 9:43 am, Sun May 21, 2017.

Ask any restaurant manager or owner about challenging aspects of their business and they will say, “Finding and keeping good help.” It’s a difficult, highly competitive industry and as you look around our area, new restaurants open as others shutter their doors or change hands.

The quality of the staff can make a tremendous difference and Chef Myrna Betancourt, who graduated from the highly-rated Chicago Kendall Culinary Arts program, is keenly aware of the importance of good training.

She is equally aware that prestigious culinary schools are financially out of reach for many people. Her background and belief in helping people achieve a stable career were ideally suited for her to modify the South Dade Technical College Commercial Foods & Culinary Arts Program.

The 48-week course for approximately $3,400 in tuition and fees is divided into four modules of 300 hours each and is taught at the Chapman Center in Homestead. This allows students to work locally in a real-world environment. In order to enhance hiring potential, Betancourt has a ceremony to present certificates to the students as they complete each segment of Food Preparation, Restaurant Cook, Chef/Head Cook, and Food Service Management.

Although the full 1,200-hour course is set to take two years, students are often hired partway through their training as they gain certifications. This success rate is mainly because Betancourt understands the skills and work ethic needed in the food service industry.

“I was trained at a wonderful school, and my students are held to the same standards,” she explains. “100% of our graduates get jobs in fields of employment like chef, head cooks, line cooks, assistant chefs, servers, or go into a management track. Our students all take the ServSafe Examination and this is something employers look for.” (ServSafe was developed by the National Restaurant Association and is recognized by state health departments.)

If a student has an idea of launching a business, there is more to do than talk about the dream. “I require them to do a business plan. They have to find a local restaurant similar to what they have in mind and go through all the details of how to acquire and run it. For even something like a food truck, they have to understand how much work and thought is involved.”

Betancourt is proud of having students of all ages. “We can take students right out of high school and in some cases, we have older students who need to begin a new career path. We had one man who had been unable to find anything he could stick with until he came here. It opened a new world for him and he rode his bicycle every day to get to class. He might come in wet from the rain, but he was here. Then he was hit by a car and sent word he would return to class as soon as he was able. He had to walk and it would take him two hours each way and everyone was amazed he didn’t give up. In fact, after he graduated, he was hired onto the culinary staff at Chapman.”

Others seek fulfillment of a personal goal. The 70-year-old student who entered the program assured Betancourt he decided it “was never too late” to pursue training and almost every Sunday he now makes an elaborate meal for his large family.

Each class can take up to sixteen students and in addition to their practical work at Chapman Center, there are other events as well. In February, the team won First Place in their division during the South Dade Chamber of Commerce Chili Cookoff. “I have students who keep in touch with me for years,” Betancourt said. “Although most students are hired in Miami-Dade, Broward, or the Keys, others move and they let me know how they are doing. Some students recently went to California and found good jobs quickly.”

She realizes high-end restaurants will always look to major culinary institutes first, yet students who graduate from this program are on firm footing for entry-level positions. If you do a quick search for “Restaurants in South Dade”, you’ll get more than 3,000 listings. While that does include fast food places, there are many full-service restaurants looking for the right addition to their staffs. For more information about the program, contact Chef Betancourt at (305) 416-7159 or myrnabetancourt@yahoo.com

South Dade Technical College is part of the Miami-Dade Public School System. Residency and basic eligibility requirements and other information can be found at http://www.southdadetech.edu/ under Programs, Career and Technical. Telephone is (305) 248-5723 or (305) 247-7839.

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