For 25 years, Marvis Hinson has taught prospective chefs the art of cooking at Savannah Technical College.
Currently the department head of the school’s fully accredited Culinary Arts program, Chef Hinson says demand for skilled workers in the field has exploded.
“When I started here in 1981 there were just over 250 food service businesses in Savannah,” she says. “Now there are over 1000.”
While through the years Hinson’s main goal has always been to train people to get good jobs, she also says “an important part of that is trying to instill a sense of pride in doing a good job.”
Forming a well-rounded student, Hinson says, takes more than textbooks and tests.
“We try to expose students to the real world, not just what goes on in the classroom. We take them on field trips to see what’s actually going on in the industry,” Hinson says.
“We’ve taken them on shrimpboats to learn about seafood and how it’s caught and kept fresh. We’ve taken them to a winery and to a tea plantation.”
Hinson says the typical Savannah Tech culinary arts student is in their mid to late 20s, “male or female, with no particular ethnicity.” She generally has around two dozen students enrolled per quarter.
“I’d say about 50 percent of our students when they first come here say they eventually want to be in charge of their own kitchen,” she says. “About half say they want to own their own restaurant or catering business, but that number tends to dwindle when they find out just how much hard work is involved in that.”
Many students will have already had one or two years of college, Hinson says, and some come with degrees in other fields.
She theorizes that this phenomenon is largely due “to people saying, this is what I wanted to do years ago, and now that the profession itself has improved I’m finally going to do what I’ve always really wanted to do.”
While the top level of the restaurant world typically relies on a fairly rigid caste system -- head chefs, sous chefs, bakers, sommeliers, etc. -- Hinson says she prefers a more versatile approach in her department.
“When you think of an entry-level job you usually think of a line cook. But we don’t have specific tracks,” she says. “We feel that once a student learns all aspects of working in the kitchen, they’ll be capable of performing whatever task is asked of them by their employer.”
Hanson affirms the age-old dichotomy between cooks and bakers.
“They’re completely different, because cooking is an art while baking is strictly a science. Cooking uses recipes, while baking relies on formulas. If you don’t understand the science, you’ll never master baking.”
Good bakers are born, rarely made, Hinson says -- “there’s something in their hands. You can teach anybody to put some food in a pan and saute it. But some people can do everything right when they’re baking and it still comes out inedible.”
So what happens to all that food that Savannah Tech students cook during the course of a quarter?
“After the students taste it, it’s packaged and frozen and donated to Second Harvest Food Bank under strict sanitation.”
The national reach of the Food Network has helped the reputation and profile of all phases and types of food preparation, but Hinson says there’s an advantage and a disadvantage.
“With the Food Network people can see there’s enjoyment in food preparation. There used to be a real stigma, that it was a nasty profession and the work is too hard and the pay too little. So the Food Network has brought a lot of glamor to the business,” Hinson says.
“But the downside is that people still need to understand that it’s not all glamor. It’s still very hard work.” ç
For more information about Savannah Tech’s Culinary Arts program, go to
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