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How 3 SRJC graduates are using their culinary arts training to influence the way we eat

10 things about the SRJC culinary arts program

1. Five certificates are offered: Culinary Arts, Baking & Pastry, Dining Room Service, Front House Operations and Restaurant Management.

2. Two associate of arts degrees are offered: Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management.

3. The diverse student body ranges from ages 17 to 70 and includes international students.

4. Before the pandemic, more than 5,000 people ate at the student-staffed SRJC Culinary Cafe a year. The weekly cafe and bakery are expected to reopen this fall.

5. You can order wine by the glass for your cafe meal, giving students wine service experience.

6. The retail bakery, selling breads, pastries, cookies and desserts made by students, serves more than 2,500 people annually.

7. Through the Culinary Career Center, more than 50 students and graduates were hired in Northern California food, wine and hospitality businesses per month, before the pandemic.

8. More than 350 businesses in Sonoma County employ students and graduates year-round.

9. SRJC culinary students participate in more than 100 events annually, including dinners, charity events, weddings and food-and-wine tastings, also before the pandemic.

10. The SRJC culinary arts program has its roots in the college’s Home Economics program that started in 1936. The Culinary Cafe launched in 1994 and the bakery in 2003. The Culinary Cafe and bakery provide instruction in the theory and practice of the culinary arts.

Source: Santa Rosa Junior College

It’s been a decade since Santa Rosa Junior College opened its $20 million B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center, consolidating the hands-on practice and academic courses of its culinary arts program under one roof, with four teaching kitchens and three classrooms.

At the time, students could complete the culinary certificate program for about $2,400 and earn an associate degree for about $4,500. That was a real bargain, especially compared to private school culinary programs with price tags then of up to $80,000 for a two-year education.

Some culinary students, such as Forest Kellogg of Healdsburg, paid next to nothing for the SRJC program, thanks to scholarships and other financial aid.

“The only expense I had was books, culinary supplies and room and board,” Kellogg said. “I’ve always been an overachiever. I put my head down and got through, but it was pretty rough.”

Since graduating in 2014 at age 24 with culinary arts and front-of-the-house certificates, the 33-year-old chef has worked his way up through restaurant and winery kitchens in Sonoma County and beyond. Last fall, he landed his dream job as estate chef at J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, known for its elevated food and wine pairings.

Now, 10 years after the state-of-the-art culinary center across from SRJC’s main campus opened, we checked in with Kellogg and two other chefs who went through the culinary arts program and worked their way up in the competitive kitchens of Sonoma County.

They represent the new generation of chefs who will decide what we will be eating tomorrow and into the future. All have persevered in their careers, working long hours and late nights for low pay to reach cooking and management jobs that suited their lifestyle. Here are their stories of cooking in the real-life school of professional kitchens.

Work-family balance

Like most of her colleagues who grew up watching the Food Network, Liz Guerra graduated from SRJC’s culinary arts program in the spring of 2013 with ambition and a rose-colored view of the profession.

“I know who I am, and I always knew I would rise as high up as I could,” she said. “I think I was romanticizing a culinary career of accolade. I imagined myself as a chef or a pastry cook, and I’m standing in the Beard House and cooking this amazing meal. … It didn’t go that way.”

As a kid, Guerra loved to cook. At age 6, she impressed herself by cracking an egg into a bowl of Top Ramen.

“I thought that was cutting-edge,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll never go back.’”

Her grandfather supported Guerra’s early cooking efforts and cultivated her love of all kinds of ethnic food. The family table always had bowls of sauerkraut and poi from Hawaii and a basket of Portuguese sweetbread.

“He was Filipino-Portuguese-German, and he would make these dishes called ‘mysteries,’” she said. “I would always try them, and it moved me right into the running for the favorite grandchild.”

To this day, Guerra dislikes being asked what her favorite cuisine is to cook. She’s never identified with just one style of cooking.

“I love so many different foods, culturally,” she said. “So I always respond, ‘Whatever I feel like eating today.’”

Guerra also loves her job at Oliver’s Market, where she’s been promoted several times over the past 10 years. Now she’s executive chef for the deli department of Oliver’s in Windsor.

“I have the same excitement walking into Oliver’s every day that I had back then,” she said. “When I sprinkle kosher salt, I feel the same giddiness as a 35-year-old as I did as a 24-year-old stepping into the teaching kitchen for the first time.”

Guerra enrolled in SRJC’s culinary arts program in the fall of 2011. Her husband, a plumbing salesman, supported her throughout the program, allowing her to take a heavy load of courses, plus special enrichment classes and teaching assistant positions. She finished after just 18 months.

“At school, Liz was a born leader,” said Cathy Burgett, the longtime baking and pastry chef/instructor, now retired. “She was humorous, kind and sincerely authentic in the commitment to her craft.”

Her first “big-girl culinary job” was as pastry chef at the former Savvy on First, an up-and-coming breakfast and lunch cafe in Cloverdale. A year later, she started working as a pastry cook for Diavola in Geyserville but quickly realized restaurant hours were affecting her marriage.

“I was working 11 a.m. to midnight, and I never saw him,” she said. “We were drifting apart. … I knew if I wanted to have a family life, it was not going to work out.”

So she pivoted, setting her sights on a cake decorating/customer service job at Oliver’s bakery. It didn’t pan out, but it did lead to another job at Oliver’s.

“I started as a part-time prep cook,” she said. “I was fast and efficient and a good worker. After 90 days, they said, ‘We’re giving you a raise. Do you want full-time?’”

While working in the production kitchen at the Oliver’s on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa, she applied for positions with more responsibility and took any opportunities that came her way, from kitchen lead to morning sous chef and finally, kitchen manager.

She took the job head-on, expanding her management skills while using the new challenge to work out her grief over her grandfather’s recent death. That was January 2020, just before the pandemic.

“We had to re-imagine the business during the pandemic, and it was really ugly sometimes,” she said. “There was no self-service (for food), and that was worth $20,000 a week.”

In late December, the executive chef at the Windsor store left. When the dust had cleared after the holidays, she was chosen as executive chef.

Of her training at SRJC, Guerra said she made lifelong friends she still networks with, and a sturdy foundation for her culinary career.

“The instructors are so dedicated to give a genuine representation of what the industry has to offer,” she said. “Over the past 10 years, I have used … every skill I was given.”

Now, Guerra works a regular daytime shift and is home before her 5-year-old son, Sebastian, goes to bed. Having more family time and paid time off has left her with no regrets about leaving the restaurant world.

“You can have a passion for food, but you know really quickly whether a lifestyle is for you,” she said. “Oliver’s has given me a work-life balance that I never imagined I could have, and so many opportunities to advance.”

Dream job

Kellogg grew up dividing his time between Salt Point State Park, where his dad lived and worked for the state parks, and his mom and stepdad’s home in Cazadero on a solar-powered sustainable farm. His was not an average suburban childhood.

“My parents divorced when I was 5, and my mom remarried,” he said. “You don’t realize it as a kid, but now as an adult … it was pretty unique.”

Although his dad didn’t cook much, he exposed his son early on to ethnic food made with spicy chiles, a taste that’s never left Kellogg.

“I’ve always been into spicy food because you’re also adding acid,” he said. “As a kid, my pickiness was due to the fact that the food wasn’t that good. It was bland.”

By age 7, Kellogg was making pasta salads smothered in garlicky pesto and studded with artichokes, peppers and olives. He started his first kitchen job at 14, as a dishwasher at Camp Cazadero.

In high school, he loaded up on credits at the Russian River Charter School and worked part-time as a prep cook at the Sea Ranch Lodge. By his senior year, he was clocking in as a full-time cook.

After graduating, Kellogg took culinary classes at SRJC for a semester but left to work for restaurants and catering companies up and down the Sonoma Coast. A disappointing job at an Oregon fishing lodge was the catalyst that brought him back to civilization.

Back at SRJC, Kellogg took classes with the aim of going to a four-year college to study business marketing. But once he learned how much it would cost, his enthusiasm waned.

By then, the new culinary arts center had opened, giving the impetus Kellogg needed to start cooking again. He signed up for the introductory course and wrote a paper about his first day at the Sea Ranch Lodge, when he leaned against a stove with a pot of boiling stock and set his chef’s coat on fire.

“That’s when I got excited about food again,” he said. “I was excelling because I had experience, and it was fun.”

Although he already had kitchen experience, the culinary arts program was invaluable, he said. It gave him an understanding of the scientific processes behind cooking, the freedom to express himself as a cook and a frame of reference for wine appreciation and pairing.

After graduating from the program in 2013, he went to work for the culinary team at Jackson Family Wines, serving food-and-wine pairings at the winery and vegetarian fare at the former Partake restaurant in Healdsburg.

“A lot of what I did was presenting the food and wine pairing to the guests. … That was massive and got me to where I am now,” he said. “Once you make it as a chef, so much is dealing with people, whether it’s the team or the guests.”

“In the beginning, Forest was a 100% back-of-the-house student,” said Betsy Fischer, his front house/restaurant management instructor. “I could see he would need some coaching to enjoy the hospitality side of the biz. He blossomed in our dining room, and our guests loved him.”

After working at the winery, Kellogg set his sights on getting experience at a busy city restaurant. His uncle, a successful tech entrepreneur, invited him to Atlanta, where he found a job at a fast-paced Spanish Basque restaurant that served tapas.

“The vast majority of the cooks were there to become chefs, and we were pushing each other,” Kellogg said. “It was a formative time for me to get a pace, overcome adversity and learn about teamwork.”

During the next few years, he returned to the newly remodeled Timber Cove Resort and worked his way up to executive chef, then moved back to Atlanta to work two jobs while plotting a European escape.

After saving enough money, he spent three months abroad, traveling from Sicily up through France and down to Spain, Morocco and Greece. The food was eye-opening in its simplicity and purity, he said.

After Europe, Kellogg landed an interview with Chalk Hill Estate and ended up as the executive chef at the winery’s restaurant, Chalkboard in Healdsburg. A few months later, the pandemic forced the restaurant to close, then pivot to takeout. .

Last summer, Kellogg applied for an opening at J Vineyards & Winery and landed the plum job of estate chef in charge of a five-person team. Although he still works weekends, the quality of his life has changed dramatically, and family and friends have told him he seems happier.

“Just to have some semblance of a normal life is huge,” he said. “When your nights are free, you can interact with the world.”

As estate chef, Kellogg is in charge of the rotating five-course cheese and wine tasting and the upscale five-course wine and food pairing in the Bubble Room.

“The food is quite complex,” he said. “And I have to train the staff as to why it works with the wine.”

Kellogg’s goal is to talk to visitors at every table. He often brings out the food so he can see what’s going on.

“More cooks should go out and see how happy people are,” he said. “It’s easy to lose track of why you’re doing it. … For me, it was a way to justify what I was doing. I get a chance to see that, and then it’s a fresh start every day.”

‘Nonstop’ action

Growing up in Petaluma, Kaitlyn Taylor gravitated to the kitchen, where she would help her mom and grandma cook.

“I love to help, and eventually, it turned into a whole career,” said Taylor, 36. “I like to be hands-on and busy all the time, and boy did I get in the right career for that. It’s nonstop.”

Now living in Santa Rosa and preparing for her wedding in August, Taylor has a busy life as the chef de cuisine of Stark Reality Restaurants, a successful seven-restaurant Sonoma County restaurant group.

After graduating from Casa Grande High in 2003, Taylor went directly into SRJC’s culinary arts program, where she earned all five certificates: culinary arts, baking and pastry, dining room service, front house operations and restaurant management.

“Kaitlyn brought an understated doggedness and passion to class every day,” Burgett recalled. “She constantly strove for excellence.”

Thanks to the connections she made through the school, she got her foot in the door at the upscale John Ash & Co., where she worked her way up from the pantry and pastry section to grill and saute stations while taking classes.

“I’m a big believer in going to school and working at the same time. It really helps to apply the lessons to real life,” she said. “Watching the Food Network and actually living it is completely different.”

After graduating in 2005, Taylor continued to work at John Ash & Co. for four years, then started looking for a sous chef position. At the original Willi’s Wine Bar one day, she met chef/owner Mark Stark and started the next day as a line cook at Willi’s Wine Bar and Stark’s Steakhouse, both in Santa Rosa.

From the well-seasoned chef and restaurateur Stark, she learned to look at the big picture of the restaurant and accept that there will be mistakes, but you can learn from them.

“He shares his experiences with us, from when he was growing up in the kitchen and how he learned the hard way, too,” she said.

Six months later, Taylor got the sous chef position she was looking for at Stark’s Steakhouse, where she was mentored by David Zimmerman, then chef de cuisine of the steakhouse.

“I’ve learned everything from him, from how to talk to somebody to how to fix an ice machine, from how to fix the swamp cooler up on the roof to how to fix the sump pumps down in the cellar,” she said. “Whatever goes wrong, the chef fixes it.”

When Zimmerman was promoted, Taylor took over as chef de cuisine at the steakhouse. In the fall of 2021, she was promoted to chef de cuisine of the restaurant group. In that role, she floats from restaurant to restaurant, although her home base has been the most recently opened restaurant, Grossman’s Noshery & Bar in Santa Rosa.

“I cover restaurants when our chefs are out, and I do get on the line and cook every once in a while,” she said. “I work very closely with our chefs … and I look at labor, quality control and how we can be better.”

She credits SRJC’s program for showing her what working in the food industry looks like, including the physically demanding work of being on your feet all day and night. Taylor said she enjoys it when it gets really busy and everyone has to pull together and, in restaurant parlance, get out of the weeds.

“It’s great team-building, and I think it brings some people’s personalities out,” she said. “Once you find your people, you can be a little weird. It’s OK. No one is going to judge you while sweating in the heat, hungry and doing 350 covers.”

Like every chef, she’s used to grabbing her own meals on the go.

“There’s no better place to have a meal than by the dumpster, that’s just how it is,” she said. “At night, it’s a quick, midnight snack of quesadillas, grilled cheese or a bowl of cereal. The last thing we want to eat is the restaurant food. You smell like it when you get home.”

The following recipe is from Estate Chef Forest Kellogg of J Vineyards & Winery, who sent it in a newsletter to wine club members. You could cut these in half and serve them as appetizers or as a lunch entree.

Shrimp Toast

Makes 4 toasts

1½ pounds raw shrimp in the shells

1 yellow onion, small dice (about 8 ounces)

1 stalk celery, small dice (about 4 ounces)

1 carrot, small dice (about 4 ounces)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon black peppercorn

1 bay leaf

1 bunch thyme

1 liter olive oil

1 loaf unsliced bread of choice

1 tablespoon butter

2 oranges, 1 segmented and 1 juiced (save juice separately)

1 head frisée, washed and separated

1 bunch Italian parsley, washed and minced

2 large cloves garlic, sliced thin

1 shallot, minced (about 2 ounces)

¼ cup sherry

2 lemons

2 avocados, sliced thin

Rinse shrimp under cold water. Devein and peel, then cut them in half vertically, making two identical halves. Save shrimp shells and tails and roast the shrimp shells in the oven at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Crack, break or chop the shells into pieces (about thumbnail-size).

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, add a few tablespoons olive oil and saute the carrot, onion and celery until soft. Add the shells and tomato paste and continue to cook for 5 to 8 minutes more.

Carefully pour in the remaining oil and add the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Make sure all the ingredients are covered in oil; you may need to add more than a liter depending on the shape and size of the pot. Leave on medium heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to low and cook for at least 1 hour.

Turn off and let cool for at least 1 hour. The oil should have a deep red color and none of the solids should be burned. Once cooled, strain though a colander, collecting the oil. Discard the solids and strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth at least twice. Once oil is completely cooled, transfer to a bottle. Shrimp oil can be saved for a month in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. Makes an excellent topping for pasta, pizza, seafood and vegetable dishes.

Slice bread into four 1½-inch-thick slices. Drizzle with shrimp oil and season with salt and pepper. Using a large saute pan, add enough shrimp oil to fill the bottom of the pan completely and heat until oil begins to shimmer. Place the sliced bread, oil side down, and cook until golden brown. When finished, remove from pan, slice diagonally and set on a clean plate.

Season the halved shrimp with salt and pepper. In the same pan used for the toast, add enough shrimp oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat it until you begin to see wisps of smoke. Carefully add shrimp, taking care not to splash the oil or overcrowd the pan. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of the pan. Allow the shrimp to develop some color before moving them in the pan. Cook until slightly underdone. Transfer to a large plate.

As soon as the shrimp are removed, reduce heat to low and add shallot, sliced garlic and 1 teaspoon shrimp oil. Simmer until translucent, being careful not to burn or let color develop, about 1 minute.

Add the sherry and orange juice to deglaze the pan, and gently scrape up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Increase heat to medium and reduce the sherry until nearly all the liquid is gone. Reduce heat to simmer.

Add 2 tablespoons shrimp oil and 2 tablespoons cold, cubed butter. Working quickly, add shrimp back in plus 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and juice of both lemons. Stir constantly until butter is melted and an emulsified sauce has formed. Taste and add more salt and lemon, if desired.

In a mixing bowl, drizzle some of the warm sauce over the frisée and orange segments and season lightly with salt.

Arrange sliced avocado on toast and season with salt. Follow with shrimp, then frisée salad. Finish with pan sauce, parsley and a drizzle of shrimp oil.

“My cousin Candice and I came up with this in the pool at the Rio Nido Roadhouse one summer day,” Liz Guerra said. “It blends our love for summer flavors with fun little twists from our melting-pot heritage.”

If you can’t find furikake, you can substitute black and white toasted sesame seeds. Gochugaru, a Korean chile flake, is sold at Asian markets and Oliver’s markets.

Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

Makes 4-6 servings

For dressing:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

¼ cup rice wine vinegar or mirin

2 teaspoons gochugaru

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For salad:

1 English cucumber or 4 small Persian cucumbers, small dice

2 cups seedless watermelon, small dice

1 cup mung bean sprouts, rough chopped

For topping:

Furikake seasoning

In a bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients.

Add diced cucumber, watermelon and bean sprouts. Toss everything together and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle your favorite furikake blend over salad and serve alongside any summertime grilled goodie.

“These are always things I have on hand for any summer gatherings,” said Kaitlyn Taylor, who shared this favorite casual salad recipe. You can add more or fewer ingredients, according to how many people you will serve.

Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad

Sliced heirloom tomatoes

Peaches, preferably from Dry Creek Peach, cut into wedges

Red onion, sliced

Burrata cheese, torn

Basil, freshly picked

Fleur de sel and pepper

Balsamic vinegar

Extra-virgin olive oil

Overlap a single layer of tomatoes and peaches. Top with red onion, burrata and basil. Finish with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, fresh cracked pepper and a splash of your favorite balsamic and extra-virgin olive oil.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

10 things about the SRJC culinary arts program

1. Five certificates are offered: Culinary Arts, Baking & Pastry, Dining Room Service, Front House Operations and Restaurant Management.

2. Two associate of arts degrees are offered: Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management.

3. The diverse student body ranges from ages 17 to 70 and includes international students.

4. Before the pandemic, more than 5,000 people ate at the student-staffed SRJC Culinary Cafe a year. The weekly cafe and bakery are expected to reopen this fall.

5. You can order wine by the glass for your cafe meal, giving students wine service experience.

6. The retail bakery, selling breads, pastries, cookies and desserts made by students, serves more than 2,500 people annually.

7. Through the Culinary Career Center, more than 50 students and graduates were hired in Northern California food, wine and hospitality businesses per month, before the pandemic.

8. More than 350 businesses in Sonoma County employ students and graduates year-round.

9. SRJC culinary students participate in more than 100 events annually, including dinners, charity events, weddings and food-and-wine tastings, also before the pandemic.

10. The SRJC culinary arts program has its roots in the college’s Home Economics program that started in 1936. The Culinary Cafe launched in 1994 and the bakery in 2003. The Culinary Cafe and bakery provide instruction in the theory and practice of the culinary arts.

Source: Santa Rosa Junior College

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