Incoming Springfield Culinary Arts Students Learn Hands-on Skills

Branford Hall’s classes provides a foundation for success in this exciting profession 

Culinary Arts students (left to right) include: John Jacobo Rivera, Crusi Rodriguez, Jose Ortega, Sthefanie Centeno, Ira Rankin, Elizabeth Torres, Joshua Andrews, Nakesia Gussie, Shalayna Burris, Melissa Dominguez, and Jesus Vasquez.

Springfield, Mass.— Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in cooking school? Branford Hall recently welcomed 9 new students into its Culinary Arts training program in Springfield, Mass, and the new students are quickly learning that becoming a culinary arts professional is an art as well as a science.

We spoke with Mark Brunton, Lead Instructor of the program, who shared his insights about the early sequence of classes these new students take. Through the experiences they gain—which range from kitchen and food safety to knife techniques and appetizers—his students develop the repertoire of knowledge and techniques they need to work effectively in many different food service environments.

The classes that students take are far more in-depth than simple cooking classes. Brunton explained some of the courses in detail:

  • ServSafe

During this initial 30-hour experience, students learn about safe handling and preparation of food. According to Brunton, they learn about what temperatures to cook certain foods to, and how long to cook them. He also teaches about various sicknesses people can get if their food is not cooked to the appropriate temperature. “We explain why, for example, we cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees,” he says. “And also why we never let raw poultry or meat come into contact with other food items.” (It’s to avoid the spread of dangerous bacteria like salmonella.) ServSafe, he says, is a standard that is now used in every restaurant in the U.S. After students learn the information, they take an 80-question test, which Brunton and his fellow instructor Andrew Garlo are certified by the National Restaurant Association to give as ServSafe proctors.

  • Knife Skills

Next students move on to a Knife Skills class, where Brunton says they learn the classic French techniques, such as a batonnet (1/4 inch by 1/4 inch by 2 inch cut) or a julienne (1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by 1–2 inch cut). “These are the same cuts that chefs use throughout the world,” he says. “So a chef who asks for this in China means the same thing as a chef in England or France.” This universality of terminology is useful in the culinary world, where efficiency is always a factor, and it’s critical knowledge for any new chef.

  • Essentials of the Culinary Kitchen

“Part of this course is delving into the history of the profession,” Brunton says. He teaches students about several famous chefs from the 1800s who had a profound impact on the culinary arts, including Auguste Escoffier, Fernand Point, and Marie-Antoine Carême. From there he moves on to basic kitchen techniques so that when students need to learn other aspects of food preparation they already have this fundamental training. Among the techniques students learn in this class are:

  • emulsion (combining a liquid and an oil)
  • pan searing
  • blanching and shocking (putting vegetables in boiling water and then abruptly stopping the cooking process by immersing them in ice water)
  • Hors D’Oeuvres & Appetizers
Culinary Arts student Shalayna Burris worked on creating potato rose garnishes in her Hors D’Oeuvres & Appetizers class.

This is an opportunity for students to learn all the basics about appetizer preparation. “We tell our students that the only thing that limits them is their imagination for making appetizers,” Brunton says. Students recently practiced making decorative garnishes out of a vegetable. They created potato roses, for example, out of thin slices they shaved on a piece of equipment called a mandolin. “You keep the pieces soaked in water until they become pliable,” Brunton explains, “and then roll them up to form petals, one layer after another.”

Hands-on practice builds an experienced chef

With several decades in the industry, Brunton sees culinary arts preparation as similar to the martial arts—a tremendous amount of work, put in over time, will yield a high level of skill. “The biggest difference between my ability and someone who has just started in the kitchen is 30 years experience,” he says. “Eventually chefs come to be able to do things like chop a carrot or an onion without even looking—that’s just practice.” He says experienced chefs are like black belts, who have been able to go far beyond the basics to master the most advanced techniques.

“The most important aspect of the course is the hands-on work,” Brunton says, “because you can’t learn how to cook in a book. You have to put what you learn into practice.” He explains that even master chefs are constantly learning and always looking to see what other chefs are doing. “Any chef who tells you they know everything is not one you should trust,” he says. “A good chef accepts criticism and uses it to improve what they are putting on the plate.”

A labor of love

“In our business, we do one thing, and that’s make people happy,” says Brunton. “It’s one of the most personal activities anyone can do—to prepare your food. If it’s done correctly, you can see people react with the ‘Wow’ factor.”

Having taught at Branford Hall for 4½ years, Brunton says there are 28 students in the program now. “The reason people get into the field is because they love what they do,” he says, “which is important, because the average workweek in a kitchen is 60 hours.”

Brunton says his students work much harder than even they thought they could. “I have seen the transformation of their personalities,” he says. “I have not met a student who didn’t turn out to be a better human being as a result of going through our program. They display more maturity and develop an incredible work ethic—which some did not realize they had.”

A bright future

Brunton is proud of the placements that his students earn at high-end restaurants in the area, including The Federal in Agawam, The Delaney House in Holyoke, Red Rose Pizzeria and Lattitude in Springfield, and Longmeadow Country Club. “The fact that these excellent restaurants accept our students is how I know that we are doing a good job in training them,” he says. He adds that many students are hired for full-time employment straight out of their externships.

These students are certainly headed for a bright future, with all of the excellent hands-on training they receive at Branford Hall from instructors like Brunton. We wish this new group all the best as they make their way through the Culinary Arts program!

This article is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We care about helping each of our students to attain their career goals. Find out more about the professional career training programs we offer at ten campuses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Reach out to us for more information today, or call (800)-959-7599 and schedule a visit.