Native American students cook up elite educational status

Courtesy of Navajo Technical College

Navajo Technical College culinary arts major Lionel McCabe sautes vegetables at a catering event for Navajo Oil and Gas in Gallup, N.M. The college’s culinary arts program was accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation’s Accrediting Commission.

Herald Staff Report

The culinary arts program at Navajo Technical College gained prestige this week after the American Culinary Federation accredited it for three years. It is the first time a tribal college earned such status.

With the certification, the college’s culinary arts program will now offer the same standard of education as the world’s most renowned culinary schools said Brian Tatsukawa, the college’s culinary arts instructor, in a news release.

“It puts us on the map at the same level of every major culinary school, including Le Cordon Bleu,” said Tatsukawa, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It’s also good because it gets the students plugged into the world’s largest culinary organization.”

The certification gives students the high-level instruction but at a lower cost. The news release said culinary schools such as Le Cordon Bleu can cost as much as $30,000 a year. At Navajo Technical College, in Crownpoint, N.M., the arts program begins at $45 for Native American students and as much as $90 for non-natives.

“I’m really excited for the culinary program because 10 years ago we would have never thought of this,” said the college’s culinary arts coordinator, chef Bob Witte . “I’ve had people in Gallup say they never even knew about our program, but I guarantee they will now. Why go anywhere else if you’re going to get the same certification but for a lot less money?”

The college’s culinary arts program has been steadily growing since 2006. In 2009, there was more growth after the school built a state-of-the-art culinary and hospitality building, the news release said.

“Three years ago, we were in a cubbyhole where 20 people couldn’t get around each other. But then the Navajo Nation helped us with a bigger place, and we’ve just been moving in leaps and bounds since,” said baking instructor Joe Chapa. “The certification really brought us to the 20th century.”

The accreditation came after the American Culinary Foundation visited the college in September and the foundation’s national board reviewed it in January.

Navajo Technical College plans to keep the momentum of the growing program with plans to build a 23-room hotel, new banquet hall, a butcher shop, a new cafeteria/restaurant and a deli/bakery.

Certifications from the federation are based on education and work experience. It includes categories for cooking professionals, personal cooking professionals, baking and pastry professionals, culinary administrators and culinary educators. It is the only organization that accredits culinary schools, and it does so in every U.S. state and some international sites like Switzerland, according to the news release.

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