When Jason Duffield entered Horry Georgetown Technical College this year, he retraced steps he took almost 18 years ago.
He was in the school’s Culinary Arts program in 1994 when he took a break to see if his fortune might lie in some other field.
Now, with a wife and 3-year-old child, Duffield has determined that the best future for him includes more education, and that decision led him back to HGTC.
“I guess I decided I didn’t like the heat and decided to get out of the kitchen,” he said of his mid-90s break.
The school has since rolled out a new path for culinary arts students like Duffield. It allows students to enter the program on a certificate path rather than a diploma path so that if they take a break, they won’t have to retake many of the courses they had during their first enrollment.
Someone who has been out as long as Duffield, program director Tom Mullally said Monday, might have to do some refresher work, but cooking is like riding a bicycle in that once you learn how, you don’t forget.
The new plan allows students to declare for a particular set of classes and earn a certificate in that field in two semesters.
“It’s a good way for somebody to come in and get their feet wet to find out if this is what they want to do,” said Kathleen Hassett, chef/instructor at HGTC. “And they don’t have to put out a lot of money. You know, finances are tough.”
The school is piloting the new course with a certificate in foodservice technician. In the future, Hassett said, there also will be certificates in pastry arts, pastry art marketing, culinarian and basic prep cook.
The new path will allow ;students who want to prepare for a foodservice career to do so without having to take English and math courses that are required for those pursuing a culinary arts diploma. Further, it will offer opportunities for those now working in Grand Strand eateries to take refresher coursework.
The college also hopes that providing a culinary path where students can walk away after a year with a measureable achievement will cut down on the 42 percent attrition rate between the first and second years of the diploma program.
HGTC had a culinary arts certificate program eight or nine years ago, Mullally said. But it was more of a continuing education format rather than the curriculum-based program begun this year.
Mullally, Hassett and chef/professor Eric Wagner got the idea for the certificate program as they toured culinary arts facilities at two-year schools in Charleston and Greenville to get ideas HGTC might want to adopt in the new culinary arts building the Grand Strand college wants to build.
Even during his break from formal culinary education, Duffield stayed active in foodservice.
He had started working as a bus boy and dishwasher at the Conch Cafe in Garden City when he was 18 and has worked at four other area restaurants. The Conch Cafe gave him his first cooking experience, and he now returns to that job when it opens for the tourist season each year.
He’s gotten a lot of on-the-job training there. But there’s a lot a pressure with that kind of learning, he said.
“You’ve got to do it right then, get it done,” Duffield said of learning on the fly. “If I overcook a steak here (HGTC), there’s not any financial implications.”