PGCC President Charlene Dukes, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and county officials gather for the new Culinary Arts Center ribbon-cutting on April 19.
PGCC President Charlene Dukes, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and county officials gather for the new Culinary Arts Center ribbon-cutting on April 19.

Seven years ago Juan Obando Jimenez moved to Prince George’s County with a lifelong dream to become a chef. Jimenez comes from a family where everyone cooks, and because of that, he learned about cooking at a young age. His fondest memories involve his mother, who is the most influential cook from his childhood.

“I remember my mom would make me chicken soup and how special it would make me feel,” recalled Jimenez on his childhood growing up in Costa Rica.

It’s those memories that left a lasting impression on Jimenez and strengthened his passion to “enhance memories with flavors.” He explained, “It’s those moments, like your birthday, or having a special dish that you crave, that people remember most.”

When he arrived in Prince George’s County, he met other chefs who told him to take the path of pursuing a degree in culinary arts at a community college if he was seriously interested in culinary. He took their advice and is set to graduate this May from the culinary arts program at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC).

PGCC Culinary student Juan Obando Jimenez is happy about the new space and better equipment available in the new Culinary Arts Center.

The college recently opened a state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Center to make wellness, culinary arts, and hospitality classes more conducive for training students to enter and maintain jobs in the food service and hospitality industries. Though the center opened on the tail end of Jimenez’s time in the program, he is excited to be part of the first class to learn and train in the facility.

When he was deciding whether to enroll in a culinary arts program, he made the choice to attend the program at PGCC because of its affordability. He visited other colleges and was able to tour many facilities before making his decision. Now that the center is open, “Prince’s George’s Culinary Arts Center is the best,” he said.

The center features more than 21,000 square feet of industry-style kitchens and a lecture area. Of all the new areas to learn and train, it is the baking kitchen that Jimenez loves the most.

But it’s the entire experience that really makes Jimenez feel like he made the right choice to enroll in the program. He believes that the program at PGCC has provided him the knowledge and mindset to be a chef.

“Being a chef is not just about how many recipes you have,” Jimenez explained. “As a chef you have to think about nutrition. At PGCC, they make you think about important things like that.”

Nutrition is another thing that Jimenez loves about the culinary arts program. He says that those who desire to cook for other people may not learn proper techniques, such as how to cook vegetables that maintain their nutritional value, or what suppliers are best for purchasing meat if they do not attend a quality culinary arts program. He says that if students want real knowledge and hands-on training, they should consider enrolling in the culinary arts program at Prince George’s Community College.

The curriculum is thorough and students learn to think about all aspects regarding food, including nutrition. Jimenez said the program requires students to take the same nutrition class that the nursing students must take.

Other PGCC culinary offerings include classes like Introduction to Culinary Arts, Food Production I and II, and Bar and Beverage Management. But the facility will feature more than just culinary classes. In addition to wellness and hospitality classes, the center will also offer classes that teach community members to prepare nutritious meals for their families. The new center is what makes it possible to serve both students, professionals, and community members. Because of its size and amenities, simultaneous training is possible. The design and construction also make spaces, including the banquet room, the lounge area, and the outside grilling area, ideal for hosting events.

What’s most important of course, is the center’s capabilities to train students to fill the gap in the demand for jobs in industries like culinary arts. As the food service and hospitality industries continue to grow, the new Culinary Arts Center will be a unique resource for talent needed in and around Prince George’s County.

Once his final semester is over, Jimenez plans to gain employment in a new facility where he can continue to improve his skills. He wants to create memories and serve the freshest ingredients to people, which he says is really what its all about.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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