The Prince George’s County Community College Culinary Arts Center Chef Edward Whitfield, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Prince George’s Community College President Charlene Dukes and MGM National Harbor Executive Chef Jason Johnston prepare a meal in the kitchen of the new center during the grand opening on April 19. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
The Prince George’s County Community College Culinary Arts Center Chef Edward Whitfield, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Prince George’s Community College President Charlene Dukes and MGM National Harbor Executive Chef Jason Johnston prepare a meal in the kitchen of the new center during the grand opening on April 19. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

The culinary and hospitality program at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) finally has its own home.

School officials and students held the grand opening Thursday, April 19 of the culinary program’s new center, ending the program’s reliance on various facilities such as churches, community centers and schools since its start just over a decade ago.

Students will no longer have to compete with others for instruction space and will be able to access all their classes on the Metro-accessible campus at the college’s main site in Largo.

“It’s been a dream since the program started 11 years ago,” said Natalie Webb, chair of the school’s Wellness, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Department.

The 21,000-square-foot learning center includes three instructional restaurant-scale kitchens, several classrooms, an event space and a community kitchen where community residents can practice their cooking skills in a less intimidating space.

School officials said development of National Harbor, the MGM National Harbor casino resort and several other new hotels, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues has transformed the county into a major tourist destination with growing opportunities for their culinary graduates. They said the multiple kitchens will allow the program to offer additional class sections and graduate more students into the workforce.

“The county has invested 100 percent of the dollars going into this facility,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. “If you think about commitment in these times, it’s based on the leadership here at the college to provide continuing education and to provide people an opportunity to find themselves a new career.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants in Maryland are a $12.1 billion industry. More than 246,000 jobs are currently in the state, and the number is expected to grow by nearly 10 percent in the next 10 years.

MGM National Harbor Executive Chef Jason Johnston partners with the school to help staff the massive National Harbor resort.

The new building took more than three years of planning, one year of construction and a $20 million investment form Prince George’s County.

“I purposefully held a few of my classes behind to learn in this new building,” said Ama Hammah, a student in the PGCC culinary program. “These kitchens have [equipment] many of us have never seen before.”

Hammah began taking classes in 2016, just after opening her business, Ama’s Catering Experience, where she reimagines African and Caribbean cuisine through extravagant presentation.

She said though she had already started her business, she found value in pursuing a degree to refine her skills and grow her professional network. Now she looks forward to using the facility’s state-of-the-art industrial kitchens in the instruction of her final classes.

The first classes in the new facility will meet in June. Course options range from continuing education classes to associate degrees in areas such as baking and food production. Beverage management, grill master classes and authentic Chinese cooking classes will also be offered.

“I want to take one of the beverage courses so that I can offer those services at my business,” Hammah said.

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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