The acclaimed chef/hospitality program at downtown Dallas' El Centro College is going next level, with an expansive new outpost opening in North Dallas at 11830 Webb Chapel Rd., in the space that was once home to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.
The new location comes with 50,000-plus square feet, 10 kitchens, six classrooms, and restaurant/event space that will contribute mightily to the college's program and the growth of Dallas culinary culture.
It represents a new slate of services that includes not only certificates and degree programs in Culinary & Pastry Arts, but also skill-building classes for working chefs and avid amateur foodies.
For 50 years, El Centro's culinary program in downtown Dallas has provided hands-on training with experienced professionals and helped students land jobs in the industry. Its alumni include acclaimed chefs such as Oliver Sitrin and Rick Griggs, currently slaying them at Taste Catering in San Francisco.
The downtown program will remain. The Dallas County Community College District acquired the former Le Cordon Bleu space so that CPH can expand its continuing education courses, but also beef up industry partnerships to give students more real-life experiences in the field.
Steve DeShazo, Senior Director of the new Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality program says that the changes have been in the works for a few years.
"In order to keep Dallas on top we need to make big changes that encompass growth," he says. "Our expansion into this world-class culinary training facility will guarantee support for the continued growth of Dallas culinary culture."
At the same time, El Centro's signature Food & Hospitality Institute will get a new name: the Culinary, Pastry and Hospitality (CPH) program. Part of the reason is good old SEO: The school wants to be among the top results for people searching for hospitality programs.
"Our marketing people did a little work and found that people most often search for the words 'culinary arts'," DeShazo says.
Since El Centro is part of Dallas' community college system, it's far less expensive than similar programs such as the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
"Dallas is fortunate because we can do this at a fraction of the cost of for-profit culinary schools, making El Centro a mecca for students who want to gain critical skills and remain in Dallas, or explore the world beyond," DeShazo says.
Working with restaurants and other employers is one thing that sets El Centro's program apart.
"We believe that the work we are doing with developing a workforce for the hospitality industry is innovative not just in Dallas but the entire nation," DeShazo says.
For now, they're re-working the Cordon Bleu space, most recently occupied by Pilotworks, a restaurant and food product incubator that crashed in October 2018.
"El Centro almost acquired the space after Le Cordon Bleu left, but then Pilotworks came in," he says. "They moved all the equipment around and a lot of the equipment left had sat unused, so we had to do a great deal of work to get it back in condition. The good news is that it looks better than ever."
To celebrate the opening, El Centro is hosting a series of celebrity chef experiences in January that will be open to the public.
Called "Get Seasoned Dallas! – a Celebrity Chef Series," it'll offer a firsthand preview behind the scenes of a culinary school and experience some of the finest and most influential chefs Dallas has to offer in an intimate setting.
These four-hour events, with Dallas chefs John Tesar, Junior Borges, Dean Fearing, and more, will offer the opportunity to learn cooking and recipe secrets from master craftsmen, as well as engage in a question-and-answer session in the fourth hour. Tickets for this experience are available now at www.elcentrocollege.edu/chefseries.