Community College Pilots Culinary Instruction at Corrections Conservation Camp

In the spring and summer of 2019, Lake Tahoe Community College partnered with the Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism for the region, Josh Sweigert, to pilot a non-credit, culinary boot camp at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Conservation Camp #33. Known as “Growlersburg,” this minimum-security facility is located in the California foothills between Auburn and Placerville, with a population that includes many soon-to-be-released inmates.

With considerable resources and experience in both incarcerated instruction and in culinary arts, LTCC was well-equipped and prepared to tackle such a pilot. Sweigert worked closely with Brad Deeds, Dean of Career and Workforce Education, and Shane Reynolds, Director of the Incarcerated Student Program to successfully prepare for the effort, while also benefitting from the past efforts (and equipment) of Advance, the local CAEP network.

The culinary course was created with extensive input from local industry in South Lake Tahoe over the last few years, with the goal of developing an intensive, work-based culinary boot camp. Students work with most components of a working kitchen and prepare and plate multi-course breakfasts, lunches and dinners, with a heavy emphasis on knife skills, sanitation and safety, cooking methods, and communication and teamwork.

Local chef and LTCC culinary instructor Glenn Simpson taught onsite at the camp for five full days over a period of two weeks. LTCC worked closely with CDCR staff to bring a wide range of equipment, supplies and ingredients onto the minimum security facility, with careful consideration of security policies and protocols. Modifying a hands-on, culinary class for instruction within even a minimum-security facility required a lot of care, patience, and attention to detail, but was a highly enjoyable and oftentimes amusing effort.

Growlersburg made for an ideal location for a pilot course such as this one. The facility deploys inmate culinary teams to staff mobile kitchen units for active fire crews across California. These units can be in the field for weeks at a time, providing thousands of meals to firefighters on the front lines.

As such, the culture and programs at Growlersburg emphasize culinary skills, among other roles. The facility features a working kitchen, with enough burners and prep space to provide effective culinary instruction to a small class. Growlersburg prides itself on the quality of its food and its cooking staff, with select inmate workers tending a large outdoor garden that provides fresh produce for the kitchen.

Four incarcerated students took the course, studying sauce-making, basic butchery and baking, and a host of other culinary skills before ultimately preparing and plating breakfast, lunch and dinner as part of their final grade. All four students successfully completed the course and received a skills certificate outlining the various skills studied. Two students also completed training for their ServSafe Food Handler’s card, required for employment in any California kitchen.

After successful completion of this pilot course, LTCC is looking to expand incarcerated culinary instruction in the region, with the goal of providing soon-to-be released students with industry-relevant work skills geared towards securing employment upon release, and fostering an improved quality of life.

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