Kitchen upgrade at Lafayette’s Career Center to help prepare students for culinary careers

Students can train for careers in cooking, lab space

An old cafeteria is getting a new life as an industrial kitchen and lab space for Lafayette Parish students who are aspiring culinary workers.

About $1.5 million in renovations are underway by Rudick Construction to transform the old cafeteria space at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center into an industrial kitchen with classrooms, lab space and a café area.

The parish school system has had a long-standing program for students interested in culinary careers at the Career Center, housed in a home economics-style classroom space with electric stove ranges found in most home kitchens.

“Right now, the program is limited because the existing space was never set up to be a cooking kitchen area,” said Kyle Bordelon, the school system’s facilities planning director. “Once, they move into the new area, they’ll have a full commercial-grade kitchen, learning on equipment used in commercial restaurants to give them an advantage in their careers.”

Students at the Career Center attend career-focused classes, including cosmetology and carpentry, and become prepared for industry-based certification in their fields of interest.

About 24 students are currently enrolled in the Career Center’s culinary arts program, said Herb Menard, the program’s instructor.

The new kitchen and lab space will provide students the level of training their new employers will expect, Menard said.

“Our business partners want people who have experience with industrial equipment,” he said.

That means experience cooking on industrial gas stoves, Menard said.

The new kitchen will have two six-burner gas stoves, a charbroiler, a flat griddle, deep fryer, walk-in freezers and refrigerators — the equipment that students would find in a work environment, he said.

“They want people with hands-on experience with the equipment they’ll be using,” Menard said. “This will give them the experience they need for the real world.”

Bordelon said the renovation work should be complete by August 2014 — in time for the next school year.