Skills upgrade: STC rolling out culinary management program to address local need

Chef Ruben Limas instructs a class as culinary students prepare food during a course at South Texas Collage on Thursday, June 10, 2021, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — South Texas College is rolling out a culinary management degree in the fall that the college and local restaurateurs say will bolster the institution’s existing culinary program and address a pressing need for local eateries.

Current STC culinary students were baking Thursday. Three of the students were at the college’s Pecan campus, readying batter and kneading dough for kolaches. The rest were baking in their own kitchens, watching the course’s instructor through a video call.

STC’s new program will focus on what never makes it onto a diner’s plate; things like business principles, managing profit and loss statements, facility design and menu management.

Jennifer Guerra, the college’s culinary arts chair, says about half of the degree will focus on business principles like those while the other half will teach students the introductory and intermediate cooking and baking skills.

Guerra says there’s a need for that type of training in the Rio Grande Valley.

“When they were trying to place people in that management position, there was just a lack of skill set,” she said. “So this has really been designed to address that need in the community.”

To understand that need the college consulted with local chefs and restaurateurs, among them Sony Rego, co-owner and manager of University Drafthouse, Santa Fe Steakhouse and Cantina, and Republic of the Rio Grande.

Rego says the Valley’s restaurants, “We suffer a lot here finding people that are already trained,” she said. “Getting management training is going to be wonderful. It’s going to help us a lot.”

Ruben Limas prepares dough during a culinary arts course at South Texas College on Thursday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

National chains have in-house training for management techniques, Rego said. Independent restaurants, like hers, have to train their employees how to do inventories and calculate labor costs and navigate human resources issues on their own, a drain on time and resources.

Rego said there’s also a growing demand for restaurant employees in the Valley. More places to eat are opening in the wake of the pandemic, employees are searching for — and finding — higher wages, and restaurants are short staffed.

Rego says those factors emphasize the importance of STC’s new culinary management degree, along with its existing culinary arts programs.

“We don’t have that many chefs in this area,” she said. “We do have a lot of cooks, a lot of people that know how to run the line or the fryer or the sauté, and that’s why the program’s from STC are wonderful. They’re getting trained two years, so at least they know the basic sauces, the basic techniques.”

Culinary students prepare food in the kitchen at South Texas College on Thursday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Guerra, STC’s culinary arts chair, echoed the sentiment that demand is increasing in the Valley for people who know how to cook.

“I think that our culinary world here in the Valley is expanding so much and changing so much, that there’s so much different opportunity here, that I think we’ll be able to hold on to more of our local talent,” she said. “I would even venture to say we might even be able to recruit talent from all over.”

That’s one of the reasons Guerra expects the culinary management degree to be a success. She said the degree is designed to be transferable so that students have the option to choose between going into industry or seeking a bachelor’s degree.

Students are already registering for it, Guerra said, and it will be offered at the college’s Pecan and Mid-Valley campuses.

“I think we’ll have a nice, strong cohort of 15 to 20 students by the fall,” she said.