Ready, Set, Sharpen
NECC Offers New Culinary Arts Certificate Program in the Fall of 2020
Northern Essex Community College (NECC) is preparing to launch a culinary arts certificate program. Set to begin in September, this 29-credit certificate offers students the opportunity to learn and develop practical culinary skills they can take with them along their desired career path.
“We have classes that range from beekeeping to plant-based cooking. Students will acquire actual skills and knowledge without the pressure of grading, papers and homework,” says Sandra Zappala, the program manager at NECC’s Center for Corporate and Community Education. “The classes are small, intimate and have a social aspect that is fun with an undercurrent of real hands-on experiential learning.”
The program is headed by Denis Boucher (top of page), who also serves as program manager of NECC’s existing hospitality associate program. A native of Maine, Boucher has an associate degree from the Culinary Institute of America and over 20 years of experience as a chef and restaurant manager. His resume also includes teaching at New England Culinary Institute from 2005 to 2014, where he was named “Teacher of the Year” in 2006, and serving as director of Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Coltivare restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y.
“Denis exudes a passion for what he does,” Zappala says. “He speaks the language of the cooking industry, and through years of experience in the field brings a practical knowledge of the culinary business that is invaluable.”
Boucher hopes the culinary arts program at NECC will eventually expand into an associate program. “We’re beginning the foray into that venue with a certificate program because we found it important to get students right into operations and viable positions within the industry,” Boucher says.
According to Boucher, many students had expressed interest in the program, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused a temporary halt in enrollment, forcing the college to alter its strategies.
The coronavirus has also forced the leaders of the culinary program to adopt social distancing policies. The first semester of the program, therefore, will be taught remotely. “We looked at the certificate program and pulled out pieces that we know we can teach online,” Boucher says.
Boucher says many of the program’s foundational courses can be easily adapted to online formats. Examples include a sanitation and safety certification by the National Restaurant Association and an intro to culinary arts class that involves the theory and history of the culinary arts. For the latter, Boucher plans to share extensive videos on how to properly operate kitchen and lab equipment.
“We’re encouraging students to get all of these requirements done and get a head start, because come the spring semester, they can start doing their hands-on [courses], and it will pretty much be nothing but hands-on at that point,” Boucher says.
The culinary arts program will have its own floor in a 10-story building known as “The Heights at Haverhill,” which is currently under construction on Merrimack Street in Haverhill. Plans for the building include two first-floor restaurants and a top-floor sky bar that will provide internships and real-life opportunities for culinary students.
To further help students pursue their culinary aspirations, NECC is also creating articulation agreements with nearby colleges such as Bunker Hill Community College, Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and UMass Lowell to help students continue their educations as they desire.
“If somebody has a passion and wants to continue their education, we want to make sure that the courses they’re taking now are applicable and transferable,” Boucher says. “Our mission as a community college is to both educate and offer educational opportunities to our community, so we would love for these students to stay local and benefit our own local food industry.”