For the past eight years, students in the Boxelder Job Corps Center culinary arts program have benefited from chef Dave Levesque's wide-ranging cooking experiences.
Located in the Black Hills National Forest near Nemo, the Boxelder Job Corps Center has 24 students in its culinary arts curriculum, which is one of 10 different trades taught at the school.
There's a waiting list to get into Levesque's program and the average student takes about 14 months to complete it. Once they do, they have ServSafe credentials -- an important accreditation in the food service industry -- as well as excellent knife skills and other industry training. This qualifies them to go directly to work in a higher-paying position in a commercial kitchen or to apply to an advanced culinary school for further training.
After 30 years in the food service business, Levesque, who was recently chosen by the South Dakota chapter of the American Culinary Federation as Chef of the Year for the state, has worked in just about every kitchen environment possible. "So when the opportunity to teach came up, I thought now's a good time to teach others all my skills," Levesque said. "It's been the most rewarding job ever since."
Justin Christie is one of two culinary arts students who recently graduated. Christie, 22, wants to own his own restaurant someday and Levesque's training is helping him accomplish his dream, he said.
"He's absolutely a good teacher. We learn so much in the classroom. It's amazing how much I've learned. It was really cool to know that we were being trained by one of the best," Christie said.
Students hone their classroom skills through a variety of catering jobs. The U.S. Forest Service, the South Dakota National Guard and a variety of nonprofit organizations use the Job Corps culinary program for their events.
"We do a lot of catering for nonprofits," Levesque said.
Culinary trade students also staff the mobile fire kitchen that the culinary arts program runs for the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression District.
"I manage the mobile fire kitchen. That's a great opportunity for students," Levesque said about working in a commercial kitchen on wheels that feeds firefighters on site during large fires.
In addition to teaching them how to cook, Levesque also incorporates lessons about nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices and food sustainability into the course. They also leave trained in CPR and first aid. Students get on-the-job training at several work-based sites, including the Job Corps Centers' dining center.