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students working in El Centro's kitchen
Forget the glamour of TV food shows. To succeed in the food and hospitality industry, students like those pictured above need a passion for "food, people, service and culture," says Steve DeShazo, director of the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro College.

​Contact: Debra Dennis; 214-378-1851

For immediate release — Feb. 8, 2018

(DALLAS) — Aspiring students who dream of becoming a chef, sous chef or hospitality professional face a warning as they approach Steve DeShazo’s door: “Do not be in a hurry.”

DeShazo’s advice, proffered in a quote from noted French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s “Letters to a Young Chef,” is a time-honored lesson for students who are pursuing a career in food and hospitality.

“It’s nothing like what you see on television,” said DeShazo, the acclaimed director of the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro College. “This is a 24-7 business. Food and hospitality serves everyone. In that sense, it’s similar to health care. Who has the best opportunity to impact health? By eating good, quality food and being served in a hospitable manner, a well-trained hospitality worker makes you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally.”

DeShazo has sent hundreds of trained restauranteurs and managers into the workforce as executive chefs, event service managers, registered dietitians and caterers. El Centro’s program is ranked among the top 22 culinary institutions nationwide. Courses include sanitation and safety, basic food preparation and food and beverage operations.

“This is a gateway industry,” said DeShazo. “Many students find themselves in the field and branch out to other interests. This is a 24-7 business.”

And it’s not for the faint-hearted, either. Learning to use a knife, take criticism and handle a demanding public are essentials. Students undergo in-the-kitchen training and are required to work in the field before they graduate.

“We take care of people. There’s no way to outsource that. It’s a people business,” said DeShazo. “To be successful in this industry, you have to have a passion for food, people, service and culture. If you don’t like those things, you will be miserable.”

Future Chefs Are Learning Their Craft

DeShazo has been with the Dallas County Community College District and El Centro College for almost four years. During that time, he has seen many trends come and go, but none as prevalent as the expansion of television food channels. Still, the students who come to El Centro aren’t there to become celebrities. They want to become masters in this profession and successfully run commercial kitchens.

Graham Keefe
Graham Keefe, a certified public accountant, says, “I realized taxes and economics are not what gets me out of bed — food is.” He hopes to open his own barbecue restaurant or catering business.

Graham Keefe, 36, is one of those students. He is a certified public accountant whose passions, by far, extend beyond accounting, taxes and financial services.

“I’m an unorthodox student. Right now, I do catering,” said Keefe, who has worked at several Dallas-area restaurants and makes his own home-brewed beer. “I realized taxes and economics are not what gets me out of bed — food is.

“I’ve enjoyed cooking as long as I can remember,” added Keefe, who is in his third semester at El Centro. He also assists other students in an advanced food preparation class in which students hone their cooking techniques through a series of stations.

On this day, they work their skills by cooking a huge breakfast of quiche, bacon, sausage and huevos rancheros, an egg dish paired with salsa. These morsels are prepared under the tutelage of El Centro instructors.

Keefe wants to open his own barbecue restaurant or a catering operation with a commercial kitchen. He has several college degrees and has mastered the workforce. However, he enrolled in El Centro’s Food and Hospitality Institute, the only school in the DCCCD system that offers the program. “I just have a passion for food,” said Keefe. “I’m pretty happy here.”

Calandra Colvin, 45, learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen in Arkansas. She comes from a long line of cooks; her aunt and other matriarchs knew their way around a kitchen, she said. And her paternal grandmother owned a restaurant in Georgia.

She moved to Texas from Arkansas just enroll in El Centro’s program. “Cooking is in my blood,” said Colvin as she moved a large container of crispy bacon from the stove. “I would like to work at one of the nice hotels. I’ve been cooking my whole life. Now I’m perfecting it, using the techniques they teach here and looking for new ways to create different dishes.”

Technique is what she hopes to perfect. She already knows the dishes must be savory and pleasing to the eye.

Landon Swilley
Landon Swilley, who was inspired watching his dad cook as he grew up, completed culinary courses at Forney High School and is now perfecting his skills in an apprenticeship.

Landon Swilley is in the midst of an apprenticeship after completing culinary courses at his high school in Forney. His inspiration: his father.

“My dad cooked a lot when I was a kid. He bought a smoker and used it every weekend. I watched him and then I started helping him. I really like cooking,” said Swilley, a 2016 graduate of Forney High School who already has logged time at Dallas-area banquets and restaurants.

“I want to run my own hotel or restaurant or own my catering business,” said Swilley. “I could also see myself becoming a personal chef as long as I can plan the menus.”

He is chopping parsley and mushrooms for an upcoming event, knowing that trial and error lead to perfection. “You just have to concentrate on what you’re doing,” he said, staying out of the way of others in the kitchen.

Passion and Practice Bring Jobs, New Opportunities

Cultivating a student’s passion is part of what students learn through El Centro’s hands-on instruction taught by faculty members in its three food service concentrations: bakery/pastry, culinary arts, and food and hospitality service. They work around hot ovens, walk on slippery floors and must learn to watch out for each other.

Then there’s the occasional disgruntled guest — and students must learn how to handle those people with a mix of diplomacy and hospitality.

But the pay is considerable for those who successfully prepare for the workforce, said Jim Knifong, the culinary arts instructor and apprenticeship coordinator at El Centro.

“I tell students, ‘You are not in this for the money,’” he said. “You don’t have to stay in the kitchen. There’s so much more to explore. There are business owners and food equipment sales. There’s a wide range of opportunities.”

Employment in restaurants, bars and hotels is a real boost to the economy, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and the job outlook is positive. Employment for chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 10% through 2026 — faster than average for all occupations. The annual income is $43,180 or $20.76 per hour.

El Centro’s program offers three career paths:

Each semester, students get to show off their skills and knowledge with weekly luncheons in the college’s dining room. These three-course meals are available every Tuesday for $12. Reservations are required; call 214-860-2217.

“The training reflects a real restaurant,” DeShazo said. “Each week, a student is selected to lead, which means he or she selects the décor and designs the menus and tabletop, and supervises other students.”

If they’re successful, their pictures may be added next to El Centro’s alumni outside DeShazo’s office.

For more information about El Centro’s Food and Hospitality Institute and programs, visit For more information, contact DeShazo by phone at 214-860-2652 or by email at

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