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Dearth of Chefs, Cooks Benefits ACCC's Culinary Grads

April 3, 2006

- "Help Wanted. Desperately."

Those words seem to be a mantra among independent, chain and casino restaurateurs up and down the Jersey shore these days.

Cases in point:

- The Lyons Group, a Boston based restaurant group, is scouring the East Coast for 100 to 110 new cooks and chefs to staff three new restaurants soon to open in Atlantic City.

- The Borgata by itself reportedly is looking to hire about 260 chefs and cooks for three new restaurants carrying the names of well-known chefs.

And with 30 new fine-dining establishments expected to open in casinos, the shortage of kitchen personnel is becoming critical. According to one Philadelphia consultant to the hospitality industry, the growth in new restaurants is a national phenomenon.

That’s good news for students at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Academy of Culinary Arts. Kelly McClay, ACA's assistant director, said each of the 75 students expected to graduate in May has had at least three job offers.

ACA is the largest cooking school in New Jersey. Its faculty includes award-winning chefs and food and beverage industry experts who have trained and worked in Europe and Asia. Its graduates are highly-regarded in the food service business and many are owners of fine restaurants and allied businesses.

Michael F. Balles, 20, of Egg Harbor Township, a May graduate, has had four firm job offers, two from top tier casinos, two from regional country clubs, in the past few weeks. In each case, pay is in the mid-$30s. "That's pretty good for a guy just coming out of college," he said.

Christopher Spera, 22, of Bayville, Ocean County, also graduating in May, said he has had several offers but is leaving the state after graduation and thus hasn’t been aggressive in seeking out jobs in New Jersey. He has, however, been encouraged by interest shown by the Atlantic City office of a well known hotel chain for a job elsewhere.

According to McClay, casinos usually attend the academy's spring career fairs, but since last fall, demand for individual recruitment visits has burgeoned. The interest in hiring ACA graduates reflects the value of the academy’s degrees, associate in applied science in culinary arts or food service management.

"The first year I was here, recruiters came on a hit or miss basis, now they're here two or three times a week," Balles said.

Both budding chefs were highly pleased with their training at the Academy of Culinary Arts. "You get an excellent education at ACA from very good chef educators. The demand for our graduates tells me that whatever our teachers are doing, they’re doing it right."

Spera said he paid between $16,000 and $20,000 for his culinary education and considering he can earn more than that in his first year out of school, his academy training "was a real good buy."

According to a recent report, an assistant chef from the two-year program at ACCC's culinary school can expect to start at a casino earning from $30,000-$35,000 while vocational school graduates start at about $23,000.