Vickie Fuller is in charge of preparing young adults for a career in the culinary arts at the Southwest Area Career Center (SWACC) in Monett. She had been teaching the culinary arts classes for 11 years at Monett. Fuller lives in Joplin and drives 90 miles each day to teach.
"I love what I do," said Fuller, "or I wouldn't drive this far. I like my kids."
Culinary arts includes many areas of the food service and hospitality industry including nutrition, sanitation, dining room management, cooking and baking. The large number of training programs available have caused this field to become more competitive.
The Southwest Area Career Center provides training to students interested in the culinary field. It is a two-year program of study in the restaurant and hospitality field. Classroom instruction with hands-on training is an essential part of the program. Students work in an instructor-supervised kitchen, preparing and serving meals. They also cater luncheons and banquets for various community groups as part of their training.
According to Fuller, the students begin the school year with an orientation that can range from learning the history of culinary arts to how to fold a napkin. They learn about different chefs and restauranteurs from years past. Students also learn about sanitation and safety.
"We also talk about professionalism and how they should act," said Fuller. "We also go into detail on how they should dress professionally."
The next skill taught is knife skills.
"This is a hard skill," Fuller said. "They have to learn how to control a chef knife."
According to Fuller, one of the most important skills is how to properly wash their hands. The students also have to wear chef hats when they go into the kitchen, and if they have piercings, they have to take them out and cover them with a bandaid.
"I am pretty strict on that," said Fuller. "They also have to wear closed toe shoes when we are serving the public."
The students cook for different events. Recently, the class fixed dishes for the Barry County Retired Teachers meeting. The did cooking demonstrations for the group, gave cakes away and offered tastings of vegetables. Following the tastings, the students served lunch.
Among the many skills that the students learn are callibrating thermometers, so they can test the temperature of the foods, cleaning, doing laundry, funning the dishwasher and other kitchen equipment.
"The students have to pass equipment safety tests with 100 percent and have to pass food sanitation with at least a 80 percent because the national standard is 75 percent.
"It is a little more difficult because you learn about all of the diseases that one can get from food born illnesses so we have never had a problem with that," said Fuller. "I am extremely picky and I set very high expectations. I don't want the students to come in here and fail. I want them to succeed in whatever they do."
"I want my students to learn how to cook for themselves too," added Fuller.
The culinary arts program at SWACC follows the Prostart curriculum, which is a hospitality management program endorsed through the National Restaurant Association. Students can earn a certificate of achievement by working 400 hours, taking both Prostart I and Prostart II tests and passing them with 75 percent. After they receive their certificates, they can apply for a $2,000 scholarship from the National Restaurant Association.
"There is a lot to learn in this class," said Fuller. "I also include spelling and math. Everytime I give a test, spelling is included. They have to spell to be able to write a recipe and have to know fractions to read and follow a recipe."
Fuller added that instruction is also given on how to properly shake hands.
"This is a people-oriented business, and the students have to know how to talk to people, greet them, look them in the eye and be respectful," Fuller said.
The Southwest Area Career Center has a well-equipped, up-to-date culinary arts lab, providing students training on commercial restaurant equipment. Career opportunities include: restaurant management, baker, chef, and dining room manager.