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The Art of Cuisine - OTC program helps teach, train future chefs
Ogeechee Technical College students Monique Howard, right, and Lauren Stanley hustle orders to hungry guests.
    For some, cooking isn’t just another chore — it’s an art. At least that’s what Ogeechee Technical College instructor Chef Tony Pisacano says.
    Five years ago, Pisacano helped begin the Culinary Arts program at OTC. He helped order equipment, pick out text books and create syllabi. Today, Pisacano and Chef Bryan Richard share their love of cooking with 40 students.
    “It’s a two year technical program that we take you from scratch, from the very beginning on learning how to basically cook — for restaurant purposes that will enable students, as they go along, to learn more and more and get more advanced,” said Pisacano, the lead instructor for the program.
    Pisacano says the program isn’t just for new students — it’s for anyone who is looking for a new career or a change in life. He said his students range in age from 18 to 60 years old.
    As for how he likes teaching others how to cook, Pisacano says he enjoys it very much.
    “When you’re teaching something like this it’s artistry,” he said. “You’re involving taste and touch and sight and it’s wonderful to watch them grow.”
    The instructors aren’t the only ones who enjoy the program — the students get a kick out of it too.
    After cooking in the Army for 2 1/2 years and growing up with a family that has a history of cooking, Donna Hatcher, a Sylvania resident, said the program was a natural choice.
    When she finishes the program in May, she hopes to open her own restaurant.
    “I’d like to open a restaurant in Sylvania, so it would have to be country, or down-home food, but I’d like to still have a Friday night special with elk or something different that most people haven’t tried that we’ve learned how to do here in this program,” said Hatcher.
    Every two weeks, the culinary arts students and some hotel and restaurant management students host luncheons for OTC faculty and staff. At the luncheons, guests are served a five course themed meal prepared by the upcoming chefs.
    Hatcher said the program — with its luncheons and instructors — have prepared her for what her future in the restaurant business holds.
    “The lunches are fun to me — when we get out of the program and want to work in a restaurant, we’ll already be in the mind frame to do that — to work under pressure, take orders and prepare meals,” she said.  “Chef Tony and Chef Bryan definitely get you ready. You know what to do when you get done with this program.”
    Linda Burke, a Millen resident, has a slightly different story of how she came to be at OTC.
    After working for a textile company for more than 30 years, Burke lost her job when the company moved to China. She said they offered to pay for her education — and she took them up on it.
    “I never saw myself in school at this point — I thought I’d retire — but I knew I had to do something, and this is what I’d always wanted to do. The opportunity just opened up for me,” she said.
    Burke has always had a love for baking, and after watching a family member bake “pretty food” during her childhood, she knew she wanted to follow in those footsteps.
    “When I was little I had an aunt that baked all these wedding cakes and pretty cakes and pretty casseroles,” she said. “To me it was just pretty food. I wanted to bake things like that.”
    Now, after finding the Culinary Arts program at OTC, Burke has plans to open a bakery of her own.
    “I have a big garage and I could close it in and open a bakery from home,” said Burke. “I’d like to do some vegetable and fruit arrangements, or if people wanted casseroles for dinner, I could do that for them. It’d be kind of like a catering service.”
    Regardless of their future plans, Burke and Hatcher both attribute their knowledge and skills to the Culinary Arts program.
    “The program has been great.  We’ve met good people, learned a lot about preparing a good meal,” said Hatcher. “I know when I’m done I’ll be prepared. The program has been great experience.”

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