By Jared Solis
The best part about dining is the food. The worst part is the wait.
Waiting, however, seems to be the order of the day for St. Philip’s College culinary arts students vying for their program to provide a bachelor’s degree at the college.
Sophomore Gina Castilleja fights through Interstate 35 traffic every weekday to work full shifts at the college’s Upper Deck restaurant, which is part of the daily class and labs of the tourism, hospitality and culinary arts department.
Castilleja graduates in December and hopes to one day parlay her experience at St. Philip’s and in other restaurants into her own bed and breakfast business.
A huge step toward this goal, Castilleja concedes, is attaining a bachelor’s degree, but it can be difficult.
“I think it’s very important (to have a bachelor’s degree),” Castilleja said. “It’s very uncommon in the culinary arts. You don’t see it around because you have to go to places like the Culinary Institute of America or try to apply somewhere else where it is usually expensive.”
The clamor of the kitchen gets louder as the students rush back and forth preparing the grand dessert for the Chancellor’s Gala the next day.
Castilleja’s instructor, Will Thorton, who sits at the head of the kitchen overseeing the ordered chaos, echoes her sentiments over the clanging of cooking utensils.
“This is a hot culinary market, and they don’t want to leave here, but there’s no offering of a bachelor’s degree in San Antonio, so students right now have two choices,” Thorton said. “They can go to the University of Houston where they can get a bachelor’s in hotel restaurant management, or they go to Texas State (University-San Marcos) to get a bachelor’s in fine arts and sciences.
“But if students can get a bachelor’s in culinary arts here in what’s becoming a culinary mecca, that would be great.”
The road to getting a bachelor’s program at St. Philip’s, however, may take some time.
“Because our colleges are accredited, we need to meet the approval of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Southern Association of Colleges as a school,” Mary Kunz, tourism, hospitality and culinary arts department chair, said.
Kunz said the process also must go through the Texas Legislature, which is not scheduled to convene again until January 2009.
Kunz gives an estimated time frame of a minimum of 1 1/2 years before the process moves past that juncture.
She gives the same estimate of time for the other two hurdles the process of getting a bachelor’s program must go through.
“I think it is safe to say that this is something in our five-year plan,” Kunz said.
There are several factors that weigh in St. Philip’s College’s favor, such as a major culinary industry brewing within the city.
“The impetus is really, probably fueled by the fact that the tourism industry is one of San Antonio’s major industries,” Kunz said. “And clearly there are lots of jobs for the culinary arts; the cooks and chefs and restaurant managers and caterers and all of those individuals who work in that industry.”
Thornton sees restaurants hiring his students regularly on the basis that they are in culinary school at St. Philip’s.
“It’s unbelievable right now in San Antonio,” Thorton said. “There’s more jobs than there are people to go around.”
The stakes are high for students already living in San Antonio, having to move out of town to get a bachelor’s degree and also leaving a huge market for culinary jobs behind.
“Students that we have, who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, have to go out of town, and of course, we want as much as our talent as possible to stay in town,” Kunz said.
The very fact that there is no other place for a bachelor’s in culinary arts in South Texas could be the very key to its existence here in the future.
“One of the things that I’m sure will be important to the Legislature is that we don’t duplicate something that already exists in our community,” Kunz said. “Look around, there is no other bachelor’s degree in culinary arts in San Antonio or South Texas.”
The Culinary Institute of America located at the Pearl Brewery provides a culinary program for the city, and like St. Philip’s, does not provide a bachelor’s degree either.
Even though it will not happen for a while, students are already clamoring for this to be implemented next year, Kunz said.
And even though Castilleja will be graduating in December, because of the possibility of a bachelor’s program at St. Philip’s, she will continue to keep the college in mind.
“I’m leaving, but that is definitely something that I would consider, coming back to receive my bachelor’s,” Castilleja said.
Kunz continues to stress that this will take time and will require a lot of support and approval of “some very complicated agencies, not the least of which is the Texas Legislature, so there’s a lot of work to be done.”