How one Dallas college is continuing culinary classes during the pandemic – The Dallas Morning News

Culinary student Meg Sheppard dreamed of starting cooking classes in a big commercial kitchen, learning baking skills among other budding chefs. Instead, she hopped on Interstate 635 and picked up an ingredient box filled with sugar, butter and flour. And then she drove home, where she baked cakes and cookies all alone, from an unimportant-looking box.

As colleges across the state struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, vocational schools are pivoting to virtual classrooms because in-person learning isn’t possible.

The organizers of the culinary, pastry and hospitality program at Dallas College — formerly Dallas County Community Colleges — were in the middle of moving from the El Centro campus in downtown Dallas to what they’re calling the North Campus when the virus first hit Dallas-Fort Worth. Its planned opening on March 24 was scrapped. With a week’s notice, they changed their program completely.

“The real blow was the devastating shutdown of the restaurant and hospitality industry,” said Steve DeShazo, senior director of the Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality Division. “The people [were] so tragically affected.”

DeShazo came up with a plan to continue learning in unprecedented times. Packing two to three weeks’ worth of ingredients in one big box, the chef-teachers are turning students’ home kitchens into classrooms. They can either pick up the boxes or have them delivered; the latter is available only for students who don’t have transportation.

Boxes are filled with ingredients that will be taken home and used by Dallas College culinary students.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

Remote learning during COVID-19 has proved to be expensive, DeShazo said. Each ingredient box for one culinary course costs about $200, which is higher than the price of tuition for a single class.

Because culinary classes are so hands-on, this new approach is “frustrating” but more informative, said Sheppard, a mother of three. But she is grateful she can continue her culinary training.

At first she saw a downside of not having real-time communication with an instructor and felt she was left to fend for herself. But as time went on, she ended up gaining valuable experience and skills along the way.

“[Dallas College] worked really, really hard to transition from being in-person to online,” she said. “It’s frustrating, but I feel like I’ve been able to learn so much more.”

Garry Abbs, an instructional specialist of hospitality management at the Dallas College Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality Center, measures out whipping cream to be included in boxes of ingredients.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

What’s more, Sheppard has a gluten and dairy allergy, and says she was “really nervous” about the in-person pastry classes.

“There’s a lot of flour in the air. I was thrilled when everything went online for this summer,” she said.

She also thinks Dallas College should even consider keeping the boxes as an option outside of the pandemic.

“It’s been incredibly convenient and very helpful for me, especially given my situation,” Sheppard said. “I have work, kids and food [allergy] issues.”

DeShazo said the community college plans to use a hybrid of online and in-person classes in the future.

“All along the way it has been the extreme innovation that we have seen from our entrepreneurs and operators that inspires me every day to serve students and the restaurant and hospitality industry,” DeShazo said.

Patrick Stark (right), an instructional specialist at the Dallas College Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality Center, loads green beans into boxes of ingredients as instructional dean Brian Hay looks on.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)