The Culinary Arts Program at the River Valley Technical Center in Springfield serves up to 40 students from five sending schools in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Run by Chef David Groenewold and Chef Donna Vargas, the program is considered one of the best in the state. The program is open to juniors and seniors and the occasional sophomore, and includes operating a working restaurant, the River Valley Cafe, which is housed right in RVTC adjoining the school's classroom kitchen.
"We run a full food service operation here," said Groenewold. We teach safety, sanitation, operation of equipment, baking skills, hot food and communication and dependability. Communication and dependability are two critical skills that we are really focusing on this year.
"If a student is going to be absent, they have to phone in and let us know, just like they would at a regular job. This is a field where dependability is very important if you're going to be successful."
Groenewold said that his program works closely with the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, one of the better chef's schools in the country. NECI sponsors many of the cooking competitions that RVTC students compete in.
"We stress job placement in the course as well," Groenewold said. "We stress that kids graduating be employable. They have a portfolio and the critical human skills to be successful in the work place."
Chef Groenewold has been with the program for six years while Chef Vargas is in her 23rd year as an instructor. Both commented on the high level of professional quality they have in the RVTC kitchen facilities. There is a fully furnished baking room, where students bake the breads and desserts served in the River Valley Cafe. There is a large walk-in refrigerator and a walk-in freezer.
The kitchen is larger than those found in many a restaurant, and in addition includes a hands-on instruction area at one end. As with any professional kitchen, there is a sandwich station, fryer, two large gas stoves and ovens, a pass-through with warming lights, a salad station, and more.