No More Cooking For USM Culinary Students

For three months of their culinary training, Jonathan Peel and Jeffrey Hansell's lessons move from the classroom to the kitchen. At Steve's Marina on the Green, they work side by side with Chefs Ed Hahn and Benjamin Dickerson.

They already know the basics. Here they watch, listen and turn that knowlege into a tasty dish.

"I wish the program could stay open. There's a need for chefs on the coast right now and I got into it and this is going to help me get a certification so I can do something more with my career," says Peel.

In August Peel and Hansell will be the last students to finish the USM culinary school. Tight finances and a declining enrollment are putting the program on a two year suspension.

Hansell says, "This area with all the restaurants and all the food and heritage and everything really needs a school to have to teach and fill restaurants with workers, chefs."

Corry Hudson graduated from the program in 2004. He says a lack of good chefs hurts restaurants.

"There's a lot opening up and they all need help and I'm sure they're looking for someone who has some kind of knowlege," Hudson says.

The students are just a few of the many talented future chefs Hahn says he sees pass through the school. He hates to see it close, if only temporarily.

"It's going to hurt us for at least two years. At least two years, it's going to hurt the entire industry."

Hahn says that's because in the restaurant business they're always looking for good chefs. With USM's program temporarily closed he says it will be harder to find skilled cooks who can whip up anything the customer wants.

"People love to eat and there's a lot of talent that comes through those courses and that's what we're looking for."

USM Provost Dr. Pat Joachim says there are no plans to move the school to Hattiesburg. She says to rebuild would be a major expense and after the two year suspension they will review the decision.

Dr. Joachim says Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has a culinary program that is very successful.