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Culinary classes pack new college kitchen

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Monday, Aug. 21 marked the beginning of the fall semester at the renovated Yavapai College Sedona Center — the first semester to feature Culinary Arts Fundamentals certificate classes in two state-of-the-art teaching kitchens.

The history behind the renovation, which includes the aforementioned kitchens, expanded classrooms designed for flexibility of use, an enclosed atrium and a new orientation for entry, is one of community involvement and advocacy, said Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus executive dean James Perey.


After taking on his current role in 2012, Perey began looking at ways the college might renovate the Sedona Center. The looming need for a culinary program to match the economic and cultural needs of a tourism-dependent region dovetailed with the renovation.

“The days of building brick and mortar, they’re almost gone,” Perey said, adding that renovating existing facilities is a wise way to meet current and future needs. “How are we going to invest? .... I needed to put culinary some place, and I thought Sedona was the perfect option.”

By 2015, Perey, in concert with the college’s dean of lifelong learning and Sedona community liaison Dennis Garvey and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute coordinator Robin Weeks, began talking with prominent community members, business owners and civic leaders in Sedona.

“You want to do a renovation that meets community needs,” Perey said, and when the feedback started pouring in via public meetings, emails and conversations, a plan began taking shape.

Perey, Garvey and Weeks met with the project’s architect and said, “This is what we envision.” According to Perey, creating flexible classrooms to meet OLLI, community education, general education and some hospitality management needs was a priority since the project’s start, but culinary needed something more sophisticated.

Perey said some community members expressed skepticism about the plan and probably expected a less-than-sophisticated result — something akin to a home kitchen.

“Instead, what you have are two state-of-the-art culinary labs, a culinary facility that is unlike anything in Northern Arizona,” Perey said.

As a result, community feedback has been positive: “We had to keep upping caps in those nighttime classes,” he said. “It’s invigorating for me, creating this program. For lack of a better word, it’s extremely exciting [and] the feedback I’ve had so far has been really positive.”

Regardless of the Sedona community focus during development, as well as its location, Perey said, the facility is for the whole Verde Valley.

“We want the whole region to use this facility,” he said.

Despite the culinary program’s success, the college was forced to cancel all of its Hospitality Certificate courses prior to the start of the fall semester.

“We canceled classes because we didn’t have enrollment,” Perey said, adding that the college could not offer only one course of a certificate program dependent on a step-bystep process of progression. “We need to regroup and evaluate what happened ... look at our demographic and who to target.

“Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. This is a top priority.”

In an effort to determine what will work better in the future, Perey said Yavapai College is considering partnering with Northern Arizona University’s hospitality program to align coursework. That way, students at Yavapai College could move from a twoyear certificate program to NAU’s baccalaureate program.

“I think we could have a competitive advantage, especially if [our students] can move to junior baccalaureate status at NAU,” Perey said.

Currently, NAU offers many of its hospitality classes online, meaning increased access for place-bound people. Ultimately, Perey said the college needs local help getting better enrollment numbers in its hospitality programs: “We can’t do this without business and industry. We need to form stronger partnerships."

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