A Chef's Choice
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Saint Paul College A Community & Technical College

A Chef's Choice

​​Saint Paul College Culinary Arts Program graduates are choosing to take their careers in fresh directions.

"Saint Paul College Culinary Arts students are in front of live diners from their first semester until graduation. They gain industry experience, and they participate in service projects that allow them to learn while networking and gaining volunteer experience."
-Nathan Sartain, Culinary Arts Instructor


For a Saint Paul College Culinary Arts student, there’s no telling what a day might hold. Preparing and serving breakfast to hundreds of students, demonstrating healthy cooking for local physicians, learning how to carve an ice sculpture, touring a local organic farm, tasting wine and cheese from around the world, and creating elaborate catered dinner events for the College are just the beginning of the opportunities available. With such hands-on, well-rounded culinary training, it’s no surprise that Saint Paul College Culinary Arts graduates are tailoring careers to fit their desires and passions.

“Our students come to us with a variety of goals – some want the traditional restaurant career, some want to own a restaurant, and others want to be teachers or have a job in public health or social justice,” says Nathan Sartain, culinary arts instructor and program director. “In our service-oriented program they gain the skills and experience they need to achieve those goals.”

the Storytelling Chef

Peter VangGrowing up, Peter Vang learned the art of his traditional Hmong culture cooking from his parents, and decided to turn that knowledge into a career after working a series of “dead end” jobs.

“I choose Saint Paul College because it was an affordable way to the culinary education I wanted,” says Vang. “After starting the program, every day felt like a new beginning – I would never get tired of going into the kitchen to cook something up and learn from the amazing chefs.”

After graduating in 2016, Vang began his catering business, Paj Ntaub Cuisine. “Paj Ntaub means Hmong flower cloth and represents the stories my people tell through their food and cuisine,” says Vang. “Now I am able to tell my story through food and impact others as well.”

the Sustainable Food Advocate

Rebecca JacksonA marketing and business job with a packaged gourmet foods company started Rebecca Jackson’s culinary career. “Through my company’s philanthropic efforts, I was connected with a non-profit organization where I began volunteering to run youth and family cooking classes,” she says. “This fed my desire to get closer to working with food directly."

"I chose Saint Paul College because its Culinary Arts program aligned with my interests and values in scratch cooking, well-grown food, and sustainable food systems.”


After graduating, Jackson began working at Wise Acre Eatery, a farm-owned scratch kitchen, where she further honed her passion for scratch cooking, working with in-season product, and the importance of healthy growing practices. “From there I cooked in a few other kitchens, then merged my two backgrounds and took a job directing the Shared Ground Farmers’ Cooperative,” says Jackson. “We work with small immigrant and minority farmers to develop a more just and diversified food system, and I can combine my business skills, values, and beliefs with the knowledge I gained from working in the culinary world to help bring fresh, local, and sustainably grown produce from a diverse group of growers to market.”

the Corporate Culinologist

Erik JonesKitchen work always had a magnetic pull for Erik Jones; though he tried attending a four-year college after high school, he ended up looking forward to his part-time restaurant shifts more than his classes and eventually quit school to cook full-time at restaurants and hotels around the world. “When I was in my mid-twenties I decided to get my Culinary Arts degree, and found Saint Paul College to be the right fit for me,” says Jones.

“The value and reputation was excellent, and the night classes allowed me to continue working full-time while in school.”

Throughout the program Jones’ interest in food science grew, and he began to explore other careers outside of the traditional hospitality path. He discovered the Culinology program at Southwest Minnesota State University, and Saint Paul College’s transfer program enabled him to complete his bachelor’s degree with only two additional years of education. “Today I have my dream job as the Corporate Sous Chef and Culinologist at Land O’ Lakes,” says Jones. “My Saint Paul College education rooted my food passion and experience with a formal education, giving me the skills and knowledge necessary to advance my career and achieve my goals.”

the Community Educator

Julia CohenFor Julia Cohen, food is a way of life. “I’ve worked in food service jobs since I was 15, and all my favorite memories are connected to the meals I’ve had and the people I shared them with." Cohen enrolled in the Culinary Arts program in 2012 and never looked back.

“After beginning culinary school at Saint Paul College, I felt a new wave of confidence I hadn’t experienced before as I honed my newly learned skills,” says Cohen. “ The program equips students with a variety of skill sets – from short-order cooking to pastry cake decorating and wine appreciation."

"I remember saving the top tier of the wedding cake I made in advanced pastry class for five years in the freezer because I didn’t want to devour all my hard work!” After graduating, Cohen made the bold decision to move to New York City, where she worked in a series of increasingly prestigious and high-pressure kitchen positions. After several years, she was ready to move back to Minnesota and began working at The Bachelor Farmer restaurant. “After a year there, I was ready to transition to a different opportunity in the world of food, and my contacts at Saint Paul College put me in touch with the The Good Acre, a nonprofit food hub in the Twin Cities,” says Cohen. “As Kitchen Programs Coordinator, I lead trainings for nutrition staff at K-12 schools, manage our public cooking classes, and oversee our active volunteer base. I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing and happy to be an innovator within the local food system.”

the Indigenous Food Ambassador

Brian YazzieBrian Yazzie is a Diné chef from Dennehotso, Arizona, in the northeast part of the Navajo Nation. When he moved to Saint Paul in 2013, he enrolled in Saint Paul College’s Culinary Arts program and began working at The Sioux Chef in Minneapolis. After graduation, he started his own company focused on using hyper-local and seasonal indigenous ingredients to help revitalize the original indigenous cuisine of North America.

“I believe the education I received through Saint Paul College’s Culinary Arts program helped prepare me to succeed in the industry and operate my own business"

"Now I travel internationally, bringing awareness to the original cuisine of North America by providing demos, workshops, pop-ups, consultations, and presentations on food sovereignty and culinary cultural appropriation.”

This article originally appeared in our College Magazine - Fall 2019. Download a free copy to read more stories like this one.

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