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  • VOL 08, ISSUE 01 • WINTER 2020
One Chicago School Offers Culinary Courses Entirely in Spanish

One Chicago School Offers Culinary Courses Entirely in Spanish

It’s been a long time coming, but Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute, on Chicago’s south side and one of the nation’s oldest culinary schools, now offers a certificate program entirely in Spanish. That’s a win for the country’s Latin community, which is made up of 37 million native Spanish speakers—one-third of whom have chosen hospitality as their chosen profession.

“This program was created to meet students where they are,” explains Marshall Shafkowitz, Washburne’s executive dean. The school is part of the City Colleges of Chicago, a network of community colleges throughout the city. It counts critically acclaimed chef/owner Jimmy Bannos as an alum, and partners with Hyatt Hotels, Aramark and the InterContinental Hotel for hiring purposes.

But what of concerns that it might change the present-day workplace?

“It is not creating a more Spanish-speaking culinary workforce,” explains Carolina Barrera Tobón, assistant professor of modern languages at DePaul University in Chicago. “This is a response to the existence of one already. These types of vocational programs are usually created through a lot of input from the industry and are a response to industry needs. It should allow workers access to jobs to which they did not previously have access.”

Shafkowitz echoes this sentiment. He believes, in fact, it is something that should have been rolled out years ago. And though it is a good thing, he stresses, there are concerns with what it means to funnel Spanish speakers into a specific industry. While there are additional programs like Washburne’s being developed, there are restaurateurs who have already taken matters into their own hands.

“Job applications, employee handbooks and request-off forms are written in English and Spanish,” says chef Bill Kim of Chicago’s Urban Belly restaurant. “It’s important to me that our employees feel safe and empowered in the workplace. Food is the ultimate way to help break down barriers and connect with each other.”

Gabriel Alvarez, the instructor who leads the program, agrees with this statement. He says food creates a universal connection that transcends any language. He is excited about his current students, yet he hopes more will enroll and take advantage of an opportunity to grow into management roles.

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