Alex Orellana’s love for cooking came from a childhood in his El Salvadorian grandmother’s kitchen. William Knott grew up with family picking crabs on the brackish waters of the Chesapeake. Ricky Rice passed time as a military latchkey kid experimenting in the kitchen. And, Kurt Peter started working in a small country club’s kitchen at 14, learning more each summer he came back.
The successful hotel with banquet service and restaurant Azure has more than chefs passionate about food; they’re also passionate about Anne Arundel Community College – so much so that many employees from leadership down have attended the school’s Hotel, Culinary Arts, and Tourism Institute.
The path executive chef Peter took was more of a roundabout one. After earning a sports management and business degree from Lynchburg College, he found himself craving the pace, creativity and team aspect of the kitchen.
“I just got sucked back in; I stopped fighting it,” he said. A chef in Virginia, he felt he wasn’t learning anything and decided to enroll at AACC, where he made connections that eventually landed him at the Westin.
It’s those connections that he looks to when now building his own team. “We actually do target AACC students,” he said, citing professionalism and skills. “AACC has a leg up on the other schools.”
Sous chef Rice says AACC students are consistently outstanding, an important part in maintaining a cohesive unit that works together well in the fast-paced and pressure-filled walls of a kitchen.
"Probably the professionalism would be missing from the team if AACC wasn’t involved,” he said. “There’s a discipline they teach that a lot of schools don’t seem to have.... It kind of helps build that team because we’re keeping them [here]."
Orellana, the assistant kitchen supervisor who started as a dishwasher, said he enrolled at AACC to take the next step in his career. “Every class is worth every penny,” he said. “I can do pretty much everything in the kitchen.” Next year he plans to attend full time to expedite his degree.
And though William Knot, the kitchen supervisor, goes to YouTube for advice on smoked meats from competitive smokers, it was a professor at AACC that taught him how to butcher the animals he smokes. It wasn’t just culinary tips he picked up—he says he appreciated classes focused on the business side of things as well, creating the possibility for various job paths.
“Culinary school gave me a base strong enough to overcome many obstacles,” he said.
Rice agrees. “AACC definitely helped teach me the foundation to develop my skills even further and to self-teach,” he said, noting that restaurant work provides experience and repetition, while school takes it a step further.
“Going to AACC at the same time [as working] helped me realized the why, the science and logic behind things… it puts you ahead of the others.”