|By Allison Floyd, Athens Banner-Herald,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 17, 2011--Dakota Crider has come a long way from his first cooking project, when the Paulding County boy learned how to make a fried bologna sandwich.
This week, he studied with the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation and made stuffed portobello mushrooms for a banquet of 120 people.
"I learned how it is to cook in the industry. Everyone who thinks he wants to be a chef knows it's high-pace, but you don't understand until you do it," 17-year-old Crider said Friday as he and seven other teens from across Georgia waited to show off what they had accomplished in a week.
The teens were part of the Hospitality Careers Academy, a program started nine years ago to bring ambitious kids with their sights set on the hospitality industry to Athens for an intensive week of training.
Participants get a chance to learn from people who have the type of jobs they want in 20 years -- the executive chefs, event planners and facility managers who drive the hospitality industry in Athens -- and they may see that their goal isn't quite what they want for the future.
The kids work realistic 16-hour days for a week, giving them a taste of the grinding schedule they may face leading up to a big event.
"It is relentless," said Shannon McCullough, the director of operations for the Classic Center. "By the end of the week, they are well aware of the demands of this industry."
That doesn't mean they will quit, McCullough said, but may find another aspect of the industry appeals to them more.
"I must admit when I found out about this academy I was a bit nervous," said Essielya Scarborough, a member of Madison County High School's class of 2011 who learned about the program through a teacher.
"During my stay, I learned a lot about myself, as well as the hospitality field. I am particularly interested in event planning and decorating, and the environment (of the program) allowed me to specifically focus on my interests, as well as get a taste of the hospitality field as a whole," she said.
None of the participants complained as they finished the week on Friday and showed off for their teachers, sponsors and parents with an Oscar-themed banquet.
The students -- only eight kids -- put on a red-carpet event for more than 100 people, designing the theme, decorating the venue and cooking the food. (Crider is swearing off strawberries for awhile, he said, after a week of preparing and eating them.)
The Hospitality Careers Academy started with a state grant, but local sponsors saw the value of the program and picked up the expense when the grant ran out, said Classic Center Director Paul Cramer.
"If we are going to build the hospitality industry in Athens, we can build the most wonderful building in the world, but it takes people to make the difference and that doesn't just happen overnight. We want to grow the hospitality workforce in Athens."
Organizers made the week-long summer program completely free to students and reach out through the statewide 4-H program to make sure students across the state have a chance to apply.
With such a great opportunity, McCullough asks teachers to tell students about the program and leave it to the student to apply. That way, students show how serious they are by completing a fairly long application and essay, he said.
The program is sponsored by the Classic Center, Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau, Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, Hotel Indigo, Center Stage Catering, DePalma's Italian Cafï¿½, Brett's Casual American, Epting Events, TSAV and Foundry Park Inn and Spa.
This year's participants, in addition to Crider and Scarborough, were: Isabella Zaccaria-Jeffers, Tara Albrecht, Brianca Watkins, Hayden Gray, Nick Royal and Forrest Buford.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Athens Banner-Herald, Ga.
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