Last week, I was in South Carolina to see some of the work being done by USDA’s scientists at the U. S. Vegetable Laboratory, where researchers strive to improve vegetable yields and quality. Any chef will tell you great meals begin with high quality ingredients, and nutritionists will add that a colorful meal is a nutrient-dense meal. On my way to the lab, I stopped at a place that is focused on that good food equation, especially using locally sourced produce: The Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College.
At the Culinary Institute, nine hundred students study in state-of-the-art classrooms, kitchens and dining rooms – nested within a renovated warehouse. They learn about the science that makes great food, and how that science can be applied to everyday needs. The school has a popular program focused strictly on baking and pastries, which takes successful chemistry to achieve. I watched as students built on the basic chemistry needed to make bread rise – or create a flaky crust – giving them skills to be culinary professionals someday.
The energy at the school was terrific. The day I was there, a class of high school students was visiting, all decked out in baggy pants and oversized chef’s jackets. The younger kids could barely contain themselves as they watched the culinary students work through recipes, and enjoyed eating the results. It’s that hands-on kind of training and mentoring that kids will remember when they’re choosing a career path later on down the road.
Some students from Trident will end up at Clemson or South Carolina State – South Carolina’s two land grant universities (schools founded in the 19th century to educate rural communities and students from every walk of life). And with the foundation of training that Trident and the Culinary Institute gives them, they’ll be on their way to a degree – maybe even in ag science – or a career that will help feed their community and the world.