Culinary Apprenticeship Program – Paying It Forward

Stewardship is the foundation of what we do.  Our definition, “the careful and responsible management entrusted to one’s care,” means that we are not only stewards of our guests, suppliers, and the assets we maintain, but also of our fellow employees.  One of the ways we are able to exercise this is by investing in the training and education of employees, and the Washington State Culinary Apprenticeship program, through Renton Technical College, is one way we achieve this.

Corporate Executive Chef and Partner Ken Sharp began his career at the Olympic Hotel while still in high school, where he was encouraged by the chef to attend the Washington State Chef’s Apprentice Program.  Ken earned his culinary arts degree through that program, and has enjoyed a long and successful culinary career.   One of the favorite parts of his job now is helping to mentor aspiring chefs who are eager to hone their craft and learn the skills necessary to realize their own successful culinary arts career.

El Gaucho Seattle Sous Chef Jonathan Garcia

The program demands a huge commitment from both the chef and the apprentice.  It typically takes three years to complete, requiring 6,000 hands-on hours and mastery of ten stations around the kitchen, such as prep, pantry, sauté, grill, baking, scullery, sauces, soups, and yes, even dishwashing.  In addition to the time working in the restaurants, classroom training includes 4-hours a week, with additional homework and testing.  There are usually 12-15 students in the program at any given time.

Many aspiring culinary professionals cannot take time from work to solely attend school for full time training, so the apprenticeship is the best of both worlds, as it provides classroom instruction with the more theoretical aspects, and then on-site training with the host restaurant.

The greatest benefit to an employer in hosting an apprentice is having a committed and loyal employee that is willing to learn.  The apprenticeship program gives the chef and apprentices the tools and guidance to achieve a goal oriented “mentor” relationship.

El Gaucho is currently sponsoring two aspiring chefs through this program:  Jonathan Garcia at El Gaucho Seattle, under Executive Chef Matt Brandsey, and Martin Balke at El Gaucho Bellevue, under Executive Chef John Broulette.

Jonathan started with El Gaucho five years ago and has worked his way up to his current position of Sous Chef.  Ken and Matt both saw Jonathan’s drive and desire to further his skills, so they offered to sponsor him in the apprenticeship program.  He jumped at the opportunity to learn more and become certified in a profession about which he is so passionate. Since the age of eight, Jonathan has worked beside family members in area restaurants around the Pacific Northwest.  His ultimate goal is to become Executive Chef, and this program will certainly help him attain that goal.

El Gaucho Bellevue Culinary Apprentice Martin Balke

Martin Balke was born in Germany, but grew up on a family dairy farm in Chehalis.  He realized his love of cooking when he was preparing to enter the Army and needed to lose weight, since he was tipping the scales at 300+ pounds.  Instead of eating fast food, he started preparing his own meals, realized he enjoyed it and had a knack for it, and lost a lot of weight doing it.  Instead of going into the Army, he entered the apprenticeship program on his own, where he was paired with El Gaucho Bellevue.  Not all students who enter the program are able to find a sponsor, so Martin is thrilled to be working with us.

We are excited to work with and watch these two fun and dynamic personalities as they grow and develop into the chefs they aspire to be.  By being good stewards and “paying it forward,” we all reap rewards…and so do our taste buds!

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