691 Restaurant at Grayson College is teaching students how to bring art and cooking together through the hospitality management and culinary arts program.

The restaurant serves lunch every Wednesday and Friday during the regular semesters. There are 77 students enrolled in the combined program this semester.

“The culinary program is important to the community as it is providing individuals training so that they prepare better food for individuals in our area thereby bringing a better level of professionalism to our industry,” culinary arts program Director Rusty Weatherly said.

Joanna Bryant, executive chef and lead chef instructor for career and workforce education, said the culinary arts program is important for this area because of the recent and future growth of restaurant industries.

“We have an extreme need and demand for trained culinary and hospitality workers in this area because of hotels, restaurants, Choctaw Casino, and WinStar Casino,” she said. “A good example of this that I read in the Herald Democrat this week is that Watsonburger is closing. The No. 1 reason they stated is because they cannot find good, dependable workers. We are trying to change that.”

Bryant also said there are a lot of people in this area who are passionate about cooking and want to own their own restaurant.

“However, they do not know or realize that they must make the change from great home cook to professional cooking,” she said. “There is a big difference. At Grayson College, we are offering the same caliber of program they would find at a private culinary school for a fraction of the cost. This is also extremely important because taking out large student loans which for most private culinary schools that would be more than $60,000, is not feasible for those working in the hospitality and culinary industry.”

If Grayson College students qualify for Pell Grants and scholarships, they can get the same degree and be virtually debt free, Bryant said.

“This is a life changer,” she said. “Each spring semester, we have a course called International Cuisine where we cook foods from different countries. Each week we are in a different country or region. We learn about what contributed to the cuisine of that region. The major factors that affect cuisine are history, geography, culture, and weather. We then cook and eat the foods in those countries. Some of the countries/regions that we cover include Germany, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Scandinavia, India, Thailand, Japan, and Africa. These are just a few of the countries that we do.”

The culinary arts program has a competition team. The Baron Galand Knowledge Bowl Competition is a Jeopardy-style quiz competition.

“The questions come from four subject matters: general culinary knowledge; nutrition, safety, and sanitation; pastry, and Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, 1800s classical cooking,” Bryant said. “Last year we took a silver medal in this event. For both of these competitions, students practice every week. We also do other competitions that are individual.”

The culinary arts students will also be participating in Empty Bowls competitions this school year.

“This is the ceramics club event,” Bryant said. “They have asked us to partner with them for the last 4 years and they have asked us again this year! This year it is on Tuesday, Nov. 14 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the student life center. All money raised goes to Visions of Sugar Plums to feed needy children. This year we are implementing a life-activated component where we will have healthy soup choices.”

The Culinary Art Team volunteers at events like the Sherman Wine Stroll/Small Bites Competition, the local veterans organizational dinner, Women Rock! Bras for a Cause, and Ribs 4 Rehab. They also make holiday pies. In addition to these events, there will be two other special events this year.

“Eta Sigma Delta, our honor society, is having their beer pairing dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14,” Weatherly said. “Our competition team is having their big Valentine’s Day fundraiser on Feb. 17.”

The success of the program, Weatherly said, can be seen from the feedback provided by many of the graduates.

“We have graduates at Disney World, Choctaw Casino, Omni, Sherman ISD, SMU food service, Austin College Foodservice, and the list continues,” he said.

Besides an associate of arts degree, several certificates are available: culinary arts, basic culinary skills certificate, hospitality management, and restaurant management.

“The most gratifying thing to me is seeing the excitement on our graduates’ faces when they get the jobs they always wanted. I get rewarded several times a year,” Weatherly said. “We also appreciate the support our community gives us on a daily basis and we are extremely proud to represent Grayson County in the culinary world.”

Prospective students can register for the continuing education culinary arts classes through the Center for Workplace Learning at Grayson College or at http://cwlgcc.org.

Reservations for the Wednesday and Friday lunches can be made by phoning 903-415-2605 or emailing Chef Bryant at Bryantj@grayson.edu. Please include in your message the number in the party and desired reservation time: 11:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12 p.m., or 12:30 p.m. Major credit cards are accepted as well as cash. Reservations are first-come, first-served. Please note that groups larger than eight may be split in order to accommodate patrons.