As the Flathead Valley’s hospitality industry grows, restaurants and foodservice professionals are struggling to maintain their workforce.
But at the Glacier Culinary Arts Program at Glacier High School, program instructor Tamara Fisher is working to get students involved in the foodservice industry. Students are learning about culinary careers while helping restaurants keep their businesses staffed. There are currently 90 students in the program.
“We have a great need for the hospitality industry,” Fisher said. “We need people in there to work and we need people in there with work ethic.”
Glacier is working to become the first high school in Montana with a certified culinary arts program, which will give students the opportunity to receive ServSafe and ServSuccess certifications, as well as certifications with the National Restaurant Association. Students could also become Certified Fundamental Chefs through the American Culinary Federation.
“We get to experience a lot of different things in the culinary classes,” sophomore Jaclyn Green said. “We get to cook a bunch of different things that I would never really cook.”
The Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau is connecting high school students with local businesses like DeSoto Grill, Indah Sushi and Kalispell Kreamery to help them gain foodservice hours while giving local restaurants employees.
“We will be the bridge between students and those hours that they need and connecting the business community with this education,” said Kate Lufkin, the Director of Education and Workforce at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.
While students work toward certifications and learn about future careers, they also obtain their 800 hours of required work experience through the National Restaurant Association. Those hours are acquired through foodservice work such as hosting, serving, catering and cooking at local restaurants, which fills a great need in the Flathead Valley.
Lufkin says the program establishes a new workforce, and it encourages students to stay in the valley and create a culinary community.
“For us it’s a perfect partnership because we can influence students and give them the work experience, but at the same time the restaurant and hospitality industry is struggling to find a workforce,” Lufkin said.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau supports the program and says it gives the students experience and provides the valley with skilled workers.
“It provides hands-on, meaningful, relevant work experience that not only supports many of their passions, but real-life skills that they can go out and earn a living on,” Flatau said.
The students have the opportunity to compete in ProStart culinary competitions in Bozeman, where they placed fifth in the culinary category and third in management last year. Fisher says if the students make it to the national competition, they could win scholarship funds.
Fisher has been teaching culinary arts for 15 years and came to Glacier High School from Pennsylvania, where she previously created a culinary arts program along with a student-run, 65-seat restaurant that was open to the public.
Fisher is passionate about teaching her students such a versatile industry and encourages them to pursue culinary careers.
“Culinary is hospitality,” she said. “You’re serving at weddings; you’re being an entrepreneur. There are so many aspects of this field.”
In 2020, students will compete in Bozeman at the Gallatin College ProStart competition in the culinary and management categories, work to obtain American Culinary Federation certifications and work in the Montana Apprenticeship and Pre-Apprenticeship program.