Nearly 500 English to Speakers of Other Languages students have taken classes at Holyoke Community College this year. And this summer, HCC hosted a culinary class specifically tailored for ESOL students. 

The two-month long program provided students with a top-to-bottom understanding of and hands-on experience working in the food service industry.  

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan spent a day in the class at HCC’s satellite campus on Race Street in Holyoke at the Cubit Coworks building and brings us the story. 

Hear Holyoke Community College’s culinary arts instructor Mark Antsel discuss the joys of teaching students in a digital extra. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Nearly 500 English to Speakers of Other Languages students have taken classes at Holyoke Community College this year. And this summer, HCC hosted a two-month long ESOL culinary class, which provided the students with a top to bottom understanding of and hands on experience in the food service industry.

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan spent a day in the class at HCC’s satellite campus on Race Street here in the Holyoke Canal District and brings us the story.

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: The day begins with aspiring chefs each grabbing their own individual chicken to analyze and eventually prepare. This is what is known as an ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages, culinary class.

Ideally, this includes any foreign language, but during this morning’s class, those in attendance all spoke Spanish as their primary language.

This is just one of many programs funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It’s also part of a broader network known as Mass STEP, which stands for skills, training, and education programs.

Pesha Black, Holyoke Community College: There are programs that really build on the strengths of a network of providers adult basic education program. So, programs that work with students who are learning English — adult students are learning English — or students who are earning their high school equivalency credentials, and then integrates that with the workforce development system.

Brian Sullivan: The workforce in question is that of the hospitality industry, and at this stage in the program, the students are getting a crash course in all of the ins and outs of food preparation and restaurant management.

At the helm for the morning class is an instructor whose soft-spoken approach won’t have anyone confusing him for Gordon Ramsay.

Mark Antsel, Holyoke Community College: The focus is on building confidence, primarily through knife skills and basic cooking methods. So, today is only day two.

Yesterday we looked at some ingredients, helped them to develop their sense of — their sense of smell, their palate, able to evaluate and put words to ingredients. And now, we’ll start moving into basic knife skills, culinary methods.

For me, it’s about basic techniques and really starting to feel confident in the kitchen so that you’re presented with some — something new, you have the basic skill level and and ability to not only learn it quickly, but to execute it perfectly.

Brian Sullivan: And anyone thinking that an in-depth program like this one will require student loans to last half a lifetime will be pleasantly surprised.

Pesha Black: These are all free programs. They’re fully funded by the Department of Education, plus the match from Holyoke Community College or the organization hosting. And they’re all over the state. And that’s a really exciting thing.

Brian Sullivan: The program has so many different things going for it. For starters, the price can’t be beat. And the 8 to 9 weeks that the classes run, it’s thorough and hands on. And a major bonus to the whole experience is that since 2018, all these classes have been taught here at this modernized off campus location at 164 Race Street in downtown Holyoke.

While it might be easy to lose focus daydreaming, looking out the windows here onto the canal and countless rustic brick buildings dotting the landscape, husband and wife, Alejandro and Clarissa remain unwavering. They’ve got their sights set on using these classes as a springboard to eventually open their own restaurant together.

Alejandro Peignand, Student: Those tips that the chef is teaching us definitely is going to help us, you know? It’s going to help me and my partner, that is my wife, you know, to make our restaurant, our dream come true.

Clarissa Kalaff, Student: I feel really blessed being here in the school. It’s been amazing all the knowledge that we have been able to get the  — the teachers, the chefs are always on hand. They’re always there to just, like, answer our questions. Anything, like, I — I feel like they’re so open and to teaching and they love it. It’s their passion.

Brian Sullivan: In the one class that we visited, it was clear that the curriculum was about more than just cooking food. There was vocabulary, discussion of price points and budget management, and concepts like farm raised versus wild caught, just to name a few.

And it’s all designed to make the students that much more well-rounded when the program finally ends.

Mark Antsel: I’d like them to feel that they themselves feel ready to enter the workplace or move up if they’re already working. So, they’re not…they feel like, “Yeah, I can do this, I can work in this profession. I like it, I’m good at it. And I can excel and continue to develop and grow.”