In an effort to make more Chef dreams come true, The American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF) apprenticeship program, provides opportunities for a work and education balance for those seeking a career in the culinary arts.
(above) Moorings Park’s Chef Wilbur (Billie) Raper, Jr., demonstrates cooking techniques as several apprentices from the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation look on.
Because not everyone can afford tuition for a two- or four-year culinary arts program, nor can they devote the time to take culinary classes while holding down a regular job, the ACF has stepped up to the plate with its apprenticeship program.
Moorings Park’s Chef Wilbur (Billie) Raper, Jr., CEC, better known as Chef Billie, is one of those culinary professionals. Chef Billie began working at Moorings Park® in October of 2017 and knew from the moment he toured the community, it would be a great place to start an apprenticeship program.
“I am a product of the ACFEF apprenticeship program and I have been involved in apprenticeship programs throughout my entire career,” said Chef Billie.
Moorings Park has seven different dining venues for residents on two campuses, with a third campus currently under construction.
“From catered events, home dining delivery, fine dining and casual restaurants, to assisted living and skilled nursing operations, apprentices have a vast array of real-world experiences to learn from in one community,” he said. “Within Moorings Park they will be able to move around and touch on several aspects of culinary opportunities. Each venue has one to two Chefs who will be able to guide apprentices along the way. We also have access to a computer room for classes and great kitchen spaces for culinary labs.”
Currently, Moorings Park has seven students in its apprentice program, each with varying levels of culinary experience, and each an employee of Moorings Park. According to Chef Billie, every week is a learning experience.
“We have set classes on Wednesday and Friday mornings. On Wednesdays, we have a classroom setting where we have lectures, work on the online course, have group discussion, and review textbook information,” he said. “Fridays are also our lab days. We use our Clubhouse kitchen and work on the practical aspects of what is being taught in class. At times, we will go to one of the other kitchens on property in order to gain a different perspective on a subject.”
Chef Billie regularly receives email inquiries on the program from all over the world.
“One came from as far away as India,” he said. “Everyone is very sincere and eager to learn. They understand that this is an opportunity for them to take their careers to a new level and are taking the class time very seriously.”
Chef Billie understands firsthand the impact of having an apprenticeship since that’s how he began his career.
“When I was starting out, I needed to have a full-time job. I also needed to gain the skills necessary to achieve more in the culinary field,” he said. “Becoming an apprentice taught me the basic skills I needed, and gave me the chances to learn more, do more, and be more than I thought I could achieve when I started.”
He continued, “Every apprentice has the ability to take his or her career to many different levels. But being given a start toward learning culinary skills, having accountability for time management, mastering those skills, and knowing a Chef is always looking out for you, can help apprentices succeed at every step along the way.”
Several of the apprentices at Moorings Park were thankful for being a part of the program.
“Our experience with the ACFEF apprentice program at Moorings Park has been outstanding and extremely informative,” they said. “We have learned so much in a short period of time. Chef Billy is very knowledgeable, informative and patient.”
They went on to say; “Our apprenticeship has taught us the value of being educated in a chosen career field. We are grateful for the opportunity given to us by Moorings Park and the American Culinary Federation. We are excited to be on this journey and cannot wait to achieve our goal of eventually becoming professional Chefs.”
Chef Billie believes the culinary industry as a whole is shifting more towards apprenticeships as the educational standard.
“I feel with the rise in special dietary needs, sanitation standards, as well as producing terrific food items, having a certification through the American Culinary Federation definitely gives apprentices an advantage in the job market,” said Chef Billie. “I do believe more employers will prefer to hire a certified cook/chef over someone without a certification.”
According to the chef, anyone interested in becoming an apprentice should reach out to the ACF for more information.
“The more knowledge they have about the program, the more comfortable they will be going into it,” he said.
Currently, Moorings Park is the only community in Southwest Florida participating in the ACF apprenticeship program. Chef Billie would like to see that change.
“I would like to encourage more Chefs to look at their workplaces and see if they can set up apprenticeship programs,” stated Chef Billie.
He believes if ACF Chapter members work together, they can build a larger network of apprenticeship programs all across the country.
“I owe my career, in large part, to beginning as an apprentice. It is important to me to give back to future culinarians and to pass on culinary arts for generations to come,” he said with a smile. “Today, I am proud to be able to carry on a great tradition.”
For information from the American Culinary Federation visit ACFChefs.org. Information regarding the Moorings Park apprenticeship program can be found by call 239-317-8765.