We’re continuing our series highlighting great ACFEF Apprenticeship programs with a look at Moorings Park, a retirement community in Naples, Florida. Executive Chef Billy Raper, CEC, spoke to us about how his apprenticeship program is going and his goals for investing in the future of culinary arts.
What made you want to start an apprenticeship?
I am a product of the ACF apprenticeship program, and I have been involved in apprenticeship programs throughout my career. In October of 2017 I started working at Moorings Park, a Life Plan community with two campuses currently operating in Collier County and a third campus under way. From the first moment I took the tour of the community, I knew this property would be almost ideal for starting an apprenticeship program.
Moorings Park has seven different dining venues for residents. From catered events, home dining delivery, fine dining and casual restaurants, to assisted living and skilled nursing operations, apprentices have a vast array of real-world experiences to learn from in one community. Within Moorings Park they will be able to move around and touch on several aspects of culinary opportunities that are available in today’s market. Each venue has one to two chefs who will be able to guide apprentices along the way. We also have access to a computer room for classes and great kitchen spaces for culinary labs.
What was the process of starting the program like?
The process for starting the program was very streamlined. The information that was provided to me by the American Culinary Federation was extremely helpful. There is still a good deal of thought and time that needs to go into creating a program that is specific to your chapter or community. I felt like the ACF is now able to provide a turnkey program that outlines all information needed to get you started.
What does a typical week look like for the apprentices in your program?
We have set classes up on Wednesday and Friday mornings. On Wednesdays, we have a classroom setting where we work on the online course work, group discussion, textbook information accompanied by lectures. I encourage group discussion in order to work through different viewpoints on the materials covered. Currently, we are covering sanitation with an emphasis on federal regulations as they concern the health care side of our community.
Fridays are our lab days. We use our clubhouse kitchen and work on the practical aspects of what is being taught in class. Eighty-five to 90 percent of what we do is scratch cooking, so culinary basics are imperative for success as they move throughout the campus and work in different dining venues. There will also be times when will go to one of the other kitchens on property in order to gain a different perspective on a subject.
Tell us about some of your students.
We have seven students with varying lengths of culinary experience. All of our current apprentices are employees of Moorings Park. However, I have already received e-mail inquiries from interested people as far away as India. Everyone is very sincere and eager to learn. They understand that this is an opportunity for them to take their careers to a new level and are taking the class time very seriously.
Why do you think apprenticeships are so important?
Apprenticeships give everyone an opportunity to learn and progress in a culinary career. When I was starting out, I needed to have a full-time job. I also needed to gain the skills necessary to achieve more in the culinary field. Becoming an apprentice taught me the basic skills I needed, as well as gave me the chances to learn more, do more, and be more than I thought I could achieve when I started. Every apprentice has the ability to take his or her career to many different levels. But being given a start towards learning culinary skills, having accountability for time management, mastering those skills, and knowing a chef is always looking out for you, can help apprentices succeed at every step along the way.
Do you feel as though the industry as a whole is shifting more towards apprenticeships as the educational standard?
Not everyone can afford tuition for a two- or four-year culinary school tuition. Not everyone can devote the time to taking a load of culinary classes along with working. The apprentice program provides opportunities for a work and education balance. From day to day, apprentices are exposed to so much in their work environments. Having the opportunity to discuss techniques and cuisines so soon after working with them is a huge bonus to developing culinarians. I feel that with the rise in special dietary needs, sanitation standards, as well as producing terrific food items, having a certification through the American Culinary Federation definitely gives apprentices an advantage in the job market.
I do believe more employers will prefer to hire a certified cook or chef over someone without a certification. To that end, a large part of why Moorings Park® is so supportive of the apprenticeship program is because the community wants to provide the best services for its residents, in all aspects of their lives. Having certified cooks means employing highly skilled staff who will provide the residents with the excellence they expect from their dining experiences. In addition, a goal of investing in our apprentices is to retain them as employees for years to come. We hope they will go on to attain certifications for Sous Chef and Executive Chef as well. Being able to promote an ACF certified culinary staff is a huge draw for residents who are choosing between a wide number of Life Plan communities. I imagine it will become a plus for other businesses to boast of the number of certified culinary staff they employ.
What advice would you give to students who might be interested in becoming apprentices?
Anyone interested in becoming an apprentice should reach out to the ACF and ask questions. They need to do their research and understand that becoming an apprentice is a lot of work. If they have access to someone who is currently an apprentice, they should speak to them and find out what a typical day/semester can bring. The more knowledge you have about the program, the more comfortable you will be going into it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to encourage more chefs to look at their workplaces and see if they can set up apprenticeship programs. If not at their places of business, then perhaps somewhere else in their communities that would be a good fit. If ACF Chapter members work together, we can build a larger network of apprenticeship programs across the country. I owe my career, in large part, to beginning as an apprentice. It is important to me to give back to future culinarians and to pass on culinary arts for generations to come. When I began as an apprentice, one of my instructors, Mark Kimmel, told us that just as he was teaching us to become chefs, it was our responsibility to teach others. At the time, I took that very seriously. Today, I am proud to be able to carry on a great tradition.