By Chris Frost
OXNARD—Oxnard College is meeting the need for talented professionals looking for a career in Culinary Arts, as the college boasts an exceptional program that not only gives students a diverse background in areas like front house management and fine dining, but is also training the next generation of chefs.
The program is growing under the watchful eye of Chef Adam Hart, as he prides himself on giving the students the opportunity to learn and grow while making sure their experiences in the industry matches their strengths. This creates a match made in heaven for employers and prospective employees.
The students love working with Hart, and each one dreams big for their future.
“Adam (Hart) is a great teacher," student Chance Carruth said. “He is charismatic and involves everybody in his classrooms.”
Carruth was making a vanilla sponge cake and said the secret is mixing air into the batter to make it fluffy.
“We use our mixer to mix in as much air as possible,” she said. “I love baking. I like the science of it.”
She said the class got the recipe Aug. 28, (Tuesday) and put it to work right away.
“We’re testing it out,” she said.
Carruth wants to own a bakery after she graduates from school.
“I love Danishes, croissants, and want to do it all,” she said.
Alex Gonzales was helping Chance make sponge cakes and is enjoying his time working under Hart.
“I have a job in a kitchen, and it sparked my passion for cooking,” he said. “Chance is the baker and is showing me what to do. I’ve never baked, I’ve always been a cook.”
He wants to become a private chef after graduation.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Maybe I’ll open up a restaurant someday.”
Student Olivia Ariana said cooking is her passion.
“Adam (Hart) is a great teacher, and is my mentor,” she said. “I am all about learning different cooking techniques, traveling and trying different foods.”
After graduation, she wants to work in a scratch kitchen.
“That’s where you are going to get your most learning,” she said. “I want to own a restaurant someday.”
Once inside the back of the house (kitchen) students get real-life work experience under the direction of Chef Bob Holmberg.
“I do a beginning class for the café’ and teach them how to use the equipment, make simple recipes and serve them to the college campus,” he said. “I also teach the catering class; we make all types of different hors-d'oeuvres, like sausages, soft cheeses, and different items we serve in various parts of the program.”
He is also the front-of-house (dining room) instructor.
“I teach them how to serve guests in a fine dining atmosphere,” he said. “We will be open to the public for lunches in about five weeks.”
By then, he said the students will be trained and will serve a three-course dinner with beverages.
“There is a fee, of course, for it, but it will be a nominal fee,” he said. “We haven’t decided yet what that will be. It’s a nice atmosphere for lunch, and it will be done very well.”
Consistency is the key, he said, when teaching students proper food preparation.
“You can get anything out there,” he said about following recipes.
Holmberg said the students use trays to serve meals, but he doesn’t like using them.
“When I teach them how to carry plates, I allow them to only carry three, two in one hand and one in another hand,” he said.
Holmberg has 55-years of experience in the industry that spans the front-of-house and back-of-house opportunities.
“I loved it and decided to teach after working in the public sector,” he said.
Chef Marcos Herrera oversees the fundamentals of baking and creating delectable items from scratch.
“We show them what it takes, how to do them, and how to make the dough rise,” he said. “It’s the basic principles for French bread, sourdough bread, and bagels. We also do bear claws, cinnamon rolls, and pinwheels.”
He said the class also learns basic cake decorating and how to pipe frosting on the item.
“I started when I was a little kid baking with my mom, and I love it,” he said. “I love creating a scratch cake and decorate it (when it comes out of the oven), and it turns into something beautiful.”
Hart said he’s worked for some terrible managers throughout his career, but he learned from his mistakes.
“I’ve also worked for some fantastic managers, so I have cherry picked what they offered,” he said. “There is no perfect manager, everyone is human and brings their best experiences and management style, and it doesn’t jive with everyone all the time.”
He considers himself lucky to build a great team.
“You bring in as many talented people as you can, and you don’t bridle them and let them do what they do best,” he said. “You observe, add notes to it, and may suggest doing it this way or that way, but if I bring in a fantastic pastry chef and tell him we’re going to do it this way, I know better. I’ve lost that person.”
Hart said it’s better to let them do what they do best.
"Because of that, I’m getting top-tier chefs,” he said. “they’ve worked with me in the past and say, ‘I love to work with Chef Hart because I worked with them before and he has a philosophy they understand.' They also understand that working for me is carte blanche and they get to do what they want.”
In return, he has their back.
“They’re finding the freedom to do things they want to do here they may not have been able to do in a more structured environment,” he said.
One thing that sets the program apart is that students get to teach.
“If you have a good recipe, get in front of the class and teach,” he tells his students. “Students have to learn that chefs are teachers at heart. We train people.”
He said his students are smiling.
“We have happy students,” he said. “When it’s time to work, it’s time to work, but they’re having a good time.”
He likes having students who are challenging.
“I like seeing the growth,” he said. “I had one student who was quiet and reserved and almost scared, and in the next three months, you saw her personality and confidence come out. Once that confidence is built, she starts cooking things that are leaps and bound ahead of what she did before.”
A few months later, she was running the kitchen.
“Who is this person,” Hart said. “She is my sous chef. Bringing someone from that level to almost running the whole kitchen and people respect her.”
322 W. Compton Blvd.
Suite 100 B
Compton, CA 90220