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El Centro Cooks Up Apprenticeship Program

​Contact: Ann Hatch
For immediate release — Aug. 11, 2014
Editors’ note: A list of Dallas establishments and executive chefs who are participating in the new El Centro College chefs apprenticeship program is provided at the end of the release.
(DALLAS) — Cooking up a tasty dish at El Centro College happens almost every day when culinary arts students in the Food and Hospitality Institute put their creativity and skills to work. Cooking up an apprenticeship program that allows those students to hone their skills, go to school and work for some of the most prestigious hotels and restaurants in the Dallas area results in a masterful seven-course meal (literally).
That process starts now, with the beginning of a new chefs apprenticeship program at El Centro in just a few weeks when the fall 2014 semester begins. Members of that first group will complete three years of on-the-job training, classes and countless hours of hard work — presenting their knowledge, talents and creativity on a plate for their employers and guests to see when they finish the program.
Interested students can still apply. The first class will be limited to a small group of 15 students — all screened, interviewed and carefully selected — who, along with faculty members, will revive a program from 30 years ago that has brought some of the finest, well-trained chefs to area eateries. Applicants must be 18 years old, hold a high school diploma or the equivalent, and be eligible to work in the United States. They also must be enrolled at El Centro College. Some scholarships are available from El Centro, the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association or the Texas Chefs Association.
For information, send an email to and address the inquiry in the note to Bill Hodges or Gus Katsigris, who are responsible for starting the new program.
The U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees such programs, recently approved El Centro as a recognized apprenticeship program. (The actual program content was written by the American Culinary Federation.) Each student will complete 6,000 hours of training with an employer in the program, and he or she also will earn an associate degree in either culinary arts or bakery/pastry. Commitment by each student to the apprenticeship program, the training, classes and employers is critical.
“We brought the program back so that students could learn and earn,” said Gus Katsigris, professor emeritus at El Centro, who moved the original program forward. “Apprentices will learn and rotate through 10 different stations during their three-year experience, from stewardship to supervision. In addition to preparing food, our apprentices will learn how to plan menus, keep records and handle other related responsibilities. They need to learn all of these skills to be a successful chef.”
In addition, area hotels and restaurants must be a qualified culinary facility to participate, as well as employ and train the apprentices from El Centro. Those qualifications range from having executive chefs who hold certifications or degrees in hospitality management from accredited colleges or universities and who are members of the Texas Chefs Association or the American Culinary Federation.
The restaurant facility must offer full-service menus and opportunities for apprentices to serve at least three meal experiences (breakfast, lunch, dinner, banquets and off-premise catering). At least 51 percent of the menu items in that restaurant must be made from scratch, too.
The employer also must hire the apprentice full time (between 30 and 40 hours each week) and must be a legal entity recognized by the state of Texas and the United States.
Apprentices and chefs work out the details that enable the students to work full time and to attend their classes. Students pay for classroom instruction.
When area chefs and human resources directors met with El Centro officials this summer, several participants remembered their own days in the program years ago.
Shari Carlson, chef and owner of Dessert Dreams (a wholesale bakery in Irving), worked at the Hyatt and graduated from the apprenticeship program in the 1980s after she completed the regular cook program (there was no pastry chef program at the time). “As a sous chef, I needed to learn good techniques for cooking, presentation and other skills. It was a second career for me.” Carlson is chairing the interview committee.
Patrick Mitchell, currently culinary advisor for Ben E. Keith, was a chef at several Dallas Marriott hotels for years and helped several apprentices go through the program. “I was sad to see the program come to an end. It’s really exciting to see the program start again. Three years in the industry, learning from a chef, is really important,” he said during the meeting.
El Centro faculty member Bill Hodges, who has partnered with Katsigris to bring the apprenticeship program back, was an apprentice himself several decades ago. He recalled, “I stayed at the place where I worked as an apprentice for a while. So did several others who went through the program.”
Young students coming through high school culinary programs will benefit, too. “The revived apprenticeship program at El Centro can skim and net the cream of the crop of our Pro-Start program students when they graduate and look for a good college-level program,” said Chef Steve DeShazo, culinary arts facilitator at Byron Nelson High School.
For more information, send inquiries to Hodges or Katsigris at
Interested students also can call the department at (214) 860-2202 or Bill Hodges at (214) 860-2716.
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El Centro College

Chefs Apprenticeship Program


Participating Establishments

Fall 2014

Children’s Hospital, Dallas — Robert Gillentine
Texas A&M University at Commerce — Raul Pastrana-Rosar
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Dallas — Hermann Hiemeyer
Grand Hyatt DFW — Jean-Claude Plihon

Aramark/Higher Education — Jerry Dean
Four Seasons Resort and Hotel — Cristof Syre
Brook Hollow Golf Club — Dave Sokol

Prestonwood Country Club — Klaus Peter Curley

Medical City, Dallas — Gene Athanasion
Fairmont Hotel, Dallas — Brian Armstrong
Royal Oaks Country Club — Wade Burch
Northwood Club — Michael Scott
The Gaylord Texan — Saddiq A. Mir
Rosewood Crescent Hotel — Scott Dolbee
OMNI Hotel, Dallas — Jason Weaver
The Joule Hotel, Dallas — Lisa Welch (HR director)
Belmont Village — Bill Phelan

Rough Creek Lodge and Resort — Gerard Thomson