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Culinary Arts Institute Gets Cooking
The Stanislaus County Culinary Arts Institute held its grand opening on Thursday, Oct. 18 with a standing-room-only crowd of community members, governmental officeholders, area dignitaries, and other supporters on hand.

On the menu for the grand opening was a program that consisted of a welcome, information about the school and details about its state-of-the-art facility located on Wakefield Drive in Oakdale, as well as comments about its impact on the community and Columbia College.

The new culinary institute opened its doors for students in August and is run by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. It serves several different functions, as it is the county's community school for students with alternative education needs and also hosts Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) classes for Oakdale and Waterford high school students.

"It's very exciting. I'm very proud of this. I'm very proud of our students here," said Scott Kuykendall, SCOE's Director of Career, Charter and Alternative Education.

He reported that there is a plan in the works to have a greenhouse on the premises that will be used to grow greens for use in the culinary program and it will also create an Ag science study path for students.

Columbia College is holding evening culinary classes at the institute this fall as well.

"It's a great opportunity. It's a building designed with a lot of potential," said Gene Womble, Hospitality Management Program Coordinator for Columbia College.

He added that he expects to see more in the arts and sciences as time goes on and the institute will eventually see an expansion of community education courses.

The institute's chef Brent Rodriguez spoke to the crowd about his first impressions of the culinary institute.

"As soon as I walked in the culinary room, my jaw dropped," Rodriguez said. "It's phenomenal."

He added that the students won't find anything better as far as equipment anywhere.

Near the end of the address, there was also a presentation of resolutions from U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, and also representatives from state Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen's and Assemblyman Bill Berryhill's offices. A ribbon-cutting followed and then attendees were invited to do a self-tour of the facility.

Culinary Institute students Brittany Cady of Oakdale and Berniece Cortez of Riverbank said they are inspired by their teachers and both have learned a lot about cooking, and, it seems, themselves, since starting the culinary program.

"I was very excited because I found out we were going to learn techniques with food...about cooking. I'm learning a lot," Cady said.

"I wanted to do something big with my life," Cortez added. "I love to cook...and I love food... After this I really want to go to culinary school for college. I love baking."

Both girls acknowledged that now they each spend a lot more time preparing meals in their own homes.

"It's made me develop an interest in cooking and it's made me want to go to college for more of an understanding of it, maybe even open my own restaurant... I never dreamed of it before," Cady said.

She added that she never used to cook but now she kicks her family out of the kitchen so she can do the cooking.

There was also a contest for students where they were challenged to design the Culinary Institute's logo and the winners were recognized at the grand opening. Austin Diaz of Knights Ferry won the contest and a $50 gift certificate for his sketch that included an abstract design of a chef. Angelique Hernandez of Oakdale was second place and received a $25 gift certificate.

After the formal ribbon cutting ceremony, guests took a self-guided tour of the facility which includes a laboratory classroom, the cooking room, and regular classrooms.