First, Yavapai College renovated its Sedona Center. Then, it began the first semester of culinary program coursework, welcoming 70 students a day through its state-of-the-art commercial cooking and baking kitchens.
Now, the college has decided on an official name for its culinary program: The Sedona Culinary Institute of Yavapai College.
Institute instructor and acting director Jennifer Jackson, a professional chef by trade and an instructor with Yavapai College for the last two years, said the branding is deliberate, emphasizing regional identity and encouraging destination travelers.
“We want people from out-of-state,” Jackson said, adding that her intention is to offer four to five community education courses — some spanning weeks, others for only a day — on topics that will appeal to locals and visitors alike. “We want experts to come in and utilize this during the day,” Jackson said. “The community helped build it. We want to give back.”
According to Jackson, a major enticement to wouldbe and already-master chefs is the opportunity to work in the two kitchens, which feature items only seen in the highest-end professional kitchens and culinary institutes.
“They didn’t spare any expense,” Jackson said, describing a scene of shock and awe wherein community members, including many restaurateurs, first saw the kitchens.
“I think they were expecting it to be a home economics kitchen.” The restaurant owners’ first question: “Can we rent this out for our own cooking?” Jackson’s answer was no. “It’s for the community. It’s for education.”
Beyond making great food, most of which gets eaten by the students or taken home to their families, learning at the Sedona Culinary Institute of Yavapai College provides practical experience directly applicable to culinary careers, be they entry level, private cooking, management or catering.
“It’s up to them how they want to proceed with their education,” Jackson said. “Their education begins here. It absolutely doesn’t stop here. Everything has to do with your eye to detail .... The difference between a cook and chef is attention to detail.”
Jackson said that she understands that some business owners and managers are worried about the institute over-saturating the market, producing too many entry-level chefs, but she believes the fear is ungrounded.
“I don’t foresee, even in the far future, saturating the area,” Jackson said, citing a massive tourism industry, a booming economy and more restaurants opening every year — not only in Sedona, but throughout the Verde Valley.
“People can’t find enough workers,” she said. “You have to feed the 4 million people who come here each year.” There are factors standing in the way, however: According to Jackson, producing a sustainable future for the area’s culinary industry means training people properly and encouraging livable wages, as well as focusing on better transportation and affordable housing.
Regardless of the challenges, the future appears bright for Yavapai College’s big gamble. Jackson hopes the expenditure gets noticed by people skeptical of Yavapai College’s investment outside of Prescott.
“My hope is that it changes some minds,” Jackson said. “I know the work and effort and money that went into this. I also know the passion that went into making a difference in our community.