A former furniture store on the Tulsa campus of Platt College is undergoing a thorough renovation as officials of the private school prepare to launch culinary arts and pastry arts programs in the building this fall.
Platt College's Oklahoma City campus has offered the two successful and highly popular programs for six years, but the Tulsa campus didn't have room to offer them until this fall, according to director Marcus Horn. The relocation of two other programs to another building finally has made that possible, and now construction crews are busy remaking the more than 30,000-square-foot facility into a large kitchen, restaurant and classroom complex.
"We were just trying to figure out what the next program to bring to Tulsa would be," Horn said, explaining the decision to add the culinary arts and pastry arts programs, which will welcome their first students in daytime and nighttime classes on Nov. 9. "It's been successful in Oklahoma City, and it was needed in Tulsa. It's just an obvious fit for Tulsa."
Horn said the desire for the programs in Tulsa was so strong that 15 to 20 students enrolled on the local campus were commuting to Oklahoma City to take the classes there.
"We do expect it to fill up," he said. "We haven't started advertising it yet, and we've got hundreds of leads already."
Richard Dixon, director of admissions for the Tulsa campus, said 25 to 30 students will be accepted for each class of the culinary arts program, while 15 to 20 will be accepted for each pastry arts class. Every eight weeks, a new class will be added.
Dixon said it would take students enrolled in the daytime program a year to complete the culinary arts program. They will graduate with an associate's degree in science. Horn said the pastry arts program is a diploma program, not an associate's program, and Dixon said it takes seven months to complete the daytime program.
Students in the culinary arts program will begin by taking basic classes, then rotate among five kitchens that deal in such subjects as international cuisine, baking, and stocks, sauces and soups. There are also courses in restaurant management, nutrition, and menu and facilities planning. A student-run restaurant, unnamed at this point, will also operate on the site, and each student will complete a 480-hour "externship" at a local restaurant as part of his or her degree requirements.
Mollie Hager, executive director of Platt's Oklahoma City campus, said there are about 160 students enrolled in the two programs there. In 2004, that campus became the first in Oklahoma to earn an accreditation from the American Culinary Federation.
"That makes our students more marketable," she said.
Hager said graduates of her culinary arts program most frequently go on to land entry-level jobs as assistant chefs, but some fare even better--one graduate, she said, now serves as executive chef for Gov. Brad Henry.
She said Platt officials work closely with members of the industry, particularly the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, on such issues as scholarship career initiatives.
"That's really helped us," she said. "It's exposed us to the whole state. It keeps our students in Oklahoma.
They're not going to another state to enroll in culinary arts school, although some leave to go to work for Disney or the cruise lines.
"We prepare them to be successful," she said. "We give them the theory, the academic side and the experience."
Horn expects the Tulsa programs to be just as popular and successful as the Oklahoma City programs, given the likelihood of students being able to graduate and move into a job market that offers plentiful and secure employment opportunities. Despite the economic downturn, he said, new restaurants, hotels and other facilities seem to be opening all the time in Tulsa, and all are in need of trained kitchen personnel.
Kay Gillard, director of community relations for the Tulsa campus, said local casinos in particular seem enthusiastic about the school's new program, the only one in Tulsa. She said a recent chance meeting with officials of the Creek Nation's River Spirit Casino, which boasts several restaurants, were especially pleased.
"They were so excited, knowing they were going to have a reserve to pull from for quality help," she said. "It's amazing that everyone has been so responsive."
Horn said the next step in getting the programs off the ground is to hire instructors. An advisory board for the program features chefs from some of Tulsa's most well-known restaurants--including the Bonefish Grill, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, the Renaissance Hotel and the Southern Hills Country Club--and their expertise will be called upon to help put together the faculty, he said, which will consist of eight to 10 people.
Additionally, each chef on the board has agreed to take a student from each class for an externship. Some of those positions will be paid jobs, Horn said.
"We're extremely excited about (the program). We have an opportunity to bring something to this area that hasn't been here in a while," he said, adding that right now, students are forced to drive an hour or 90 minutes from Tulsa to enroll in the closest program. "We have the opportunity to give individuals the opportunity to pursue their dreams."
Anyone interested in enrolling in the program needs to contact Dixon at 663-9000 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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