When Maggie White, account executive in cosmetics, decided it was time to pursue her dream career, the San Jacinto College culinary arts program seemed like the perfect place to start.
“I have always wanted to work in the culinary field,” White said. “
My grandmother and aunt ran small restaurants and cooked while I was growing up. It’s a family thing and makes me feel connected to them. I love feeding people.
White toured a couple other schools and chose San Jac because she believes “the education is just as good for a fraction of the cost.” She chose to specialize in pastries because “they are beautiful,” and it is an extension of her love for beauty, fashion, and all things esthetically pleasing.
The hands-on training has been a valuable part of her experience as it prepares her for work in a professional kitchen.
“Chef Huerta does this class where you’re a sous chef for a day, and you have to plan the menu in advance, set up your teams, and your vision,” White said. “You get to direct and manage the process, then present it. This was my favorite class because it was like managing a kitchen in real life.”
The program includes concepts of cake decorating, plated desserts, chocolates and confections, supervision, sanitation, and safety. They also get to work with the cuisine department and contribute treats for the Bistro when they cook for College events.
In her final class, Quantity Bakeshop Production, White will help create gingerbread houses that will go on display in the lobby of N-24 at the North Campus just before Christmas. The student-designed gingerbread village will go to the MD Anderson children’s ward on display as part of a fundraiser, connecting their work with the community.
White finds meaning in community involvement and accepted the opportunity to volunteer with Belong Kitchen last winter. The company was created to provide paid employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a supportive environment.
“It’s a beautiful program,” White said. “A mother started the restaurant so her daughter would have a place to work. I have a 5-year-old son on the spectrum, and I think it’s amazing what they’re doing. I don’t think there are enough opportunities for adults on the spectrum be able to get work. Their volunteers help out with the more labor-intensive duties.”
Belong Kitchen prepares grab-and-go meals. Since White has culinary experience, she got the chance to make cakes. Aside from baking, she assists with labeling products, portioning items for the display case, and cutting up meats.
White finds the work very fulfilling for personal and professional reasons.
“Everyone who works there is really sweet and close-knit. It’s almost impossible to get a job there because no one leaves, so I feel lucky,” White said. “One reason I wanted to volunteer with Belong was to have an experience with adults on the spectrum. The experience helps me plan ahead and get ready for when my son is older.”
What the future holds
“Chefs Huerta and Menendez have a lot of experience,” White said. “I’m confident applying what they’ve taught me in the field. I’ve done a few freelance gigs, and I felt prepared for it.”
White will graduate this fall with the pastry chef specialty certificate of technology. She feels it’s important for her son to see her graduate. She plans to start her own small business that encompasses her passion for cooking and events.
White envisions establishing a wine bar, providing event rental space, and offering charcuterie and pastries for events, delivery, and grab-and-go options.
For more information on the culinary arts program, visit: https://sanjac.edu/programs/areas-of-study/public-services/culinary-arts/