Culinary Arts Cooks Up New Opportunties

TMCC Culinary Arts professor Craig Rodrigue was awarded Chef of the Year.
Rebecca A. Eckland

While high-stakes (or, steaks) cooking shows might be everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure, a career in Culinary Arts can offer more than just good entertainment. The hands-on education and profession offers students a unique combination of artistry and science that, when carefully (and correctly) combined, is literally the recipe for success. 

TMCC Culinary Arts Professor and Professional Chef Craig Rodrigue has built his career on creating some of Reno’s finest chefs through a hands-on curriculum that runs from stem to stern on all things culinary: creating a menu, preparation, mixing, cooking, plating and presentation... and everyone’s favorite part, eating.

Rodrigue, who was recently named 2021 Chef of the Year by the High Sierra Chefs Association, shared the prestigious honor with two TMCC Alumni of the Culinary Arts program: Travis Stehman and Nicholle Allumbaugh. Stehman has worked as an executive chef at La Vecchia and sous-chef at La Strada and now runs a successful personal chef and catering company. Allumbaugh is the owner of Homage Bakery.

For all three, the kitchen is the place where science and art combine to create something unique to human experience: a meal that is meant to be shared. 

Teaming Up with TMCC Alumni

Travis Stehman working at a kitchen station

TMCC Alumni Travis Stehman who runs his own successful personal chef and catering company has teamed up with Chef Rodrigue to create new opportunities for young students to get cooking!

The special bond that can be made over food is what brought Stehman to education, and later a career, in the Culinary Arts. “It was the way people bond over food, and the way that there is happiness centered around the experience of eating a good meal,” he said. “To be able to cater to that and to be the person to give people that experience is important to me.” 

Yet, Culinary Arts wasn’t a degree or a career that was on Stehman’s radar at first. Instead, as he tells the story, he “fell into it.”

“When I was a student at UNR, I got a job in a kitchen and I began to realize that I liked being in the kitchen more than I liked being at UNR,” he admitted. That insight led him to TMCC’s Culinary Arts program where he took classes, eventually completed in the SkillsUSA competition where he earned his first accolades for his cooking skills. In 2015, he earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts from TMCC. 

Stehman, who received an honorable mention this year from the High Sierra Chef Association, is teaming up with his former Professor Chef Rodrigue and fellow alumna Allumbaugh to create a Junior American Culinary Federation/High Sierra Chefs Program for students in middle school and up. “We want to show young people that there is more to culinary arts than just working in a restaurant,” said Stehman. “We want to get their creative juices flowing, and get them out in the real world.”

Rodrigue sees value in creating a clear pathway for students as young as seventh grade to TMCC where they can clearly see their journey to a degree and, beyond, to a fulfilling career. “For the most part, we don’t have an educated workforce in the culinary arts field right now,” he said. “This new program would allow us to reach out to younger students, to show them more about the career and all the possibilities in front of them.” 

While several ideas are in the works for how this new Junior ACF program would look exactly–whether there are cake decorating contests, summer camps or competitions that pit parents against students in the program–whatever iteration happens will focus on fun, creativity and applicable skills that can be used in a working kitchen. 

A Culinary Career is…Tasty

If you like cooking and kitchens, the question of how a degree in Culinary Arts could lead to a fulfilling career might be a silly one. However, a degree and a career in culinary arts can go well beyond the mechanics of a working kitchen. “By the time you’re 21, you can have a good-paying job in a profession you enjoy,” said Rodrigue. 

If you’re into science and understanding the how and why of how things work, culinary arts works on the literal level of combining various ingredients and applying heat. It is also about creating processes that can be repeated again and again that create identical results. Working in a restaurant enables you to meet interesting people–certainly more frequently than if you work in a more traditional office setting.

Of course, the most important perk of all is the very thing you are creating: the food. “You’ll never go hungry,” said Rodrigue. It’s a degree and a career that can certainly feed the stomach as well as the soul.

To learn more about TMCC’s exciting Culinary Arts program, contact them at 775-673-7132.