P O W E L L, W y o. - Puckering up for a first taste of escargot and sushi? Exploring the ins and outs of a fire extinguisher? Racing through a Quickfire Challenge to identify cheeses and dressings and win a prize? Practicing CPR on a mannequin? Memorizing the differences between a latte, mocha and espresso?
If you can say you've done all of the above in the past couple months, it's likely you're one of the six students enrolled in Food Safety and Food Service 101, a noncredit class that met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 22-Feb. 28 at the Park County Complex. The class is the first step in a Food and Hospitality Program being developed by the Northwest College Cody Center for Training and Development (CTD).
"This program is designed to address the desperate need for a larger labor pool of workers who already have some training for restaurant work," Linda Rogers, the program coordinator, said. "Not having enough wait staff is a huge problem for the Cody food-service industry. We're also trying to address the cooking and kitchen technical requests of the community."
The Food Safety and Food Service 101 class covers topics ranging from fire and kitchen safety to desserts and table service. In between, students learn about hospitality, reservations, taking orders, counting change, salads, drinks and table service, garnishing, clean up, first aid, different service styles and food industry careers. In addition, they'll be able to run an espresso machine, buy locally to make "divine" edibles and build hors d'oeuvres and sandwiches.
Rogers said she tries to come up with a fun, action-packed delivery style to engage her students. "We do Quickfire Challenges, just like television's 'Top Chef' where the students have just a few minutes to identify each sample from an assortment of items, for example, cheeses or dressings. And I include a good story with every class - it can be about the history of eating utensils, food, even Coca-Cola."
To make sure her students are in the right mind frame to soak in all their food service and safety lessons, they're required to observe a dress code during class and to follow proper wait staff protocol, like answering with a "yes, chef" or "no, chef" when addressed by her while cooking. Rogers' dress code calls for an apron, plain colored shirt and pants, no flesh showing on the torso to the knees, constrained hair, no open-toe shoes and limited piercings, plus other requirements mandated by state code.
Another component of the class is the NWC Coffee Cart operated in the lobby of the Park County Complex and staffed by students. The Food Safety and Food Service 101 students also spend several hours job shadowing in the community.
Highly valued wait staff can answer diners' questions about entrées and preferences. That's why each student in the class must taste a full assortment of foods (including escargot and sushi) if they want to earn a certificate.
The 101 class is scheduled to be repeated later this year. Coming up in March through May is a two-day campfire cooking course, plus shorter courses on basic wait staff skills, knife skills, spices and flavorings, and using pressure cookers.
"In the Campfire Cooking class, we'll talk about buying, preparing and handling food stuffs on the first day," Rogers said. "On the second day, everyone will learn how to cook on a campfire." Participants can choose to enroll in one or both days.
Rogers said she'll be developing new classes as needs are expressed by food service businesses in the community. She already has several ideas simmering in the back of her brain. She hopes eventually they'll turn into a structured credit program.
That doesn't happen overnight. The Food and Hospitality Program has been in the works for two years, coming to life with the county's acquisition of the former Marathon Building.
Marla Muscio, the former Cody training and development program coordinator, said the idea came to her and others while they were touring the Park County Complex as a possible site for the college's new extended campus.
"A trip to the cafeteria started the wheels turning," Muscio said. "It just seemed to be a 'win-win' proposition to partner with the Park County Library and the county to utilize the cafeteria. With this program, we could offer food and beverage services to library patrons while providing 'hands-on' training through NWC's workforce training program."
The Powell Valley Economic Development Committee contributed funding to research other similar programs, and Muscio bounced the idea off numerous restaurant owners in the area. Their early involvement and suggestions were crucial in the development of the program.
When Rogers came on board as the Food and Hospitality Program coordinator, she surveyed employers in all facets of the food service industry to get their opinions and comments. Many of those employers now form the program's advisory board. They are Jerry Bank from McDonald's; James Blair of the Holiday Inn; Patty Bruce with Pro Start; Mason Donohue, Olive Glenn Country Club; Wes Icenogle, Wendy's; Lynn Lampey, Roadgrill Catering; and Park County residents Kelly Stanton and Phyllis Taggart.