College offers culinary classes in Spanish

THE TEACHER — This is Abdiel Laboy, one of the culinary-arts instructors in a 13-month, Spanish-language program at Florida Technical College in Kissimmee.

THE TEACHER — This is Abdiel Laboy, one of the culinary-arts instructors in a 13-month, Spanish-language program at Florida Technical College in Kissimmee.

PHOTOS COURTESY FLORIDA TECHNICAL COLLEGE

THE PUPIL — This is Maribel Sperduto, a culinary-arts student at FTC in Kissimmee.

THE PUPIL — This is Maribel Sperduto, a culinary-arts student at FTC in Kissimmee.

Program could come to DeLand

Florida authorities estimate that around 30,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to the Sunshine State since Hurricane Maria hit their home island. The lingering question is whether they’ll find jobs.

Florida Technical College President James Burkett, Ph.D., is betting that they will. He is convinced that the Florida economy is healthy enough to incorporate the newcomers, and is gearing up to offer them career guidance.

As a first step, the school is launching a culinary-arts diploma program fully taught in Spanish. The program started Nov. 27 at the Kissimmee campus, but similar programs may start soon at the DeLand campus.

“Our goal is to help them make a transition and learn new skills to prepare them for a career in Florida,” Burkett said. “In doing research on employment opportunities, we found that there is a critical shortage of culinary workers, especially in Central Florida. Being a Spanish speaker is not a limitation for finding employment in this industry. These things combined led us to develop a program to meet the needs of those transitioning to Florida.”

Chef Abdiel Laboy, one of the FTC instructors who is teaching the 13-month program, said the initiative has no downsides.

“We can help people resolve their need for employment while meeting a critical need that employers have throughout the state,” Laboy said. “It’s truly a win-win situation.”

Currently, no other colleges in Central Florida have a Spanish-language culinary-arts program, Laboy said. The curriculum is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation. It covers the culinary profession’s creative and business aspects.

The first 11 months will be a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on labs in a modern, commercial-grade kitchen, as well as training and development at a restaurant run by students and instructors adjacent to the school. The program concludes with a two-month externship.

Chef Laboy quipped that Spanish is the official language of many of Florida’s commercial kitchens.

“It is Latinos who put the sazón (seasoning) into what is being prepared in many of America’s restaurants,” he said. “We speak English too, but we like to communicate in Spanish when we are in the kitchen, perhaps because we feel it conveys our passion for food better.”

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