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Recently Arrived Puerto Ricans May Benefit from Culinary Arts Program Taught in Spanish

By: Florida Technical College

Florida authorities estimate that around 30,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to the Sunshine State since Hurricane Maria hit the island. The lingering question is whether they’ll find jobs.

Florida Technical College President, James Burkett, PhD, is betting on that they will. He is convinced that the Florida economy is healthy enough to incorporate the newcomers, and is gearing up to offer them career guidance. As a first step, the school is launching a Culinary Arts diploma program fully taught in Spanish. Registration is now open for the program’s start date of Nov. 27. It will be available at the Kissimmee campus.

“Our goal is to help them make a transition and learn new skills to prepare them for a career in Florida,” Burkett said. “In doing research on employment opportunities we found that there is a critical shortage of culinary workers, especially in Central Florida. Being a Spanish speaker is not a limitation for finding employment in this industry. These things combined led us to develop a program to meet the needs of those transitioning to Florida.”

Chef Abdiel Laboy, one of the FTC instructors who will be teaching the 13-month program, said the initiative has no down sides.

“We can help people resolve their need for employment while meeting a critical need that employers have throughout the state,” Laboy said. “It’s truly a win-win situation.”

Currently, no other colleges in Central Florida have a Spanish-language culinary arts program, Laboy said. The Culinary Arts Diploma program is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the American Culinary federation Education Foundation. It covers the creative and business aspects of the culinary profession with subjects like nutrition and sanitation, international cuisine, culinary techniques, facility and menu planning, and food and beverage cost control. The first 11 months will be a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on labs in a modern, commercial grade kitchen, as well as training and development at Zazón Café, a restaurant ran by students and instructors adjacent to the school. The program concludes with a 2-month externship.

Chef Laboy quipped that Spanish is the official language of many of Florida’s commercial kitchens.

“It is Latinos who put the sazón (seasoning) into what is being prepared in many of America’s restaurants,” he said. “We speak English too, but we like to communicate in Spanish when we are in the kitchen, perhaps because we feel it conveys our passion for food better.”

Florida Technical College Kissimmee campus, is also a Regional Chef Training Facility for the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest gastronomic society founded in Paris in 1248. FTC is one of only five schools in the United States to currently hold the coveted designation, which will enable students and food preparation professionals to learn from nationally and internationally recognized chefs. At the same time, the campus is the headquarter of The American Culinary Federation Central Florida Chapter.

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