SEATTLE - Over the next few days, leaders of Seattle Central College will decide the fate of a program that has been a part of the city's restaurant scene for more than 80 years. Seattle Culinary Academy, located on campus, has churned out many world-renowned chefs and culinary leaders over the years. But its fate as a program and school is numbered, primarily because of a lack of funding.
The list of notable chefs that have come from the program is impressive. They include Kristi Brown of Communion, Garrett Doherty of Lionhead, Kathy Casey, Guillermo Carreno of Autumn, Donnie Adams and Paolo Campbell of The Chicken Supply. This list goes on-and-on. The school has put the Seattle foodie scene on the map for decades, giving students hands-on, real world feel of a career chef.
Which is why the possibility of this school closing, is heartbreaking.
"It's really sad. Really sad, actually. Because education, it's the key for everything," said culinary student Orlando Casas.
According to a school spokesperson via email:
"Seattle Central’s Executive Leadership team has made a recommendation to the Chancellor to close the Seattle Culinary Academy. The Chancellor, who makes the final decision, will consider the recommendation may accept it, ask for changes, or reject it. So, elements of the proposal could surely change.
Seattle Central is working towards a balanced budget. This is in line with its obligation to be a good steward of taxpayer funds.
The Seattle Culinary Academy, specifically:
- Is one of our higher-cost programs
- Has no alternative funding sources
- Was subsidized in the past by international student enrollment. That enrollment has dropped significantly
Fortunately, our sister college, South Seattle College, offers a culinary program."
The program touts a more than 95% job placement rate. Enrollment numbers remain high, according to program leaders.
"We are, without question, the largest feeder to the restaurant industry with our graduates," said Linda Chauncey, former dean of the academy.
It's also a cheaper alternative than other culinary schools, with tuition around $11,000 compared to other premier schools costing quadruple that in some cases, said Chauncey.
The possibility of the academy closing has gained the attention of chefs nationwide and regionally. Including Tom Douglas. According to Douglas' business partner, Eric Tanaka, the need for restaurant staff, post pandemic is key right now. It should be prioritized, he said.
"I think that valuing alternatives to STEM is important. It’s not just STEM education that communities need. There are various types of education, and culinary is one of them. So I don’t think we should abandon a critical piece like that," he said.
And while the school contends that a culinary program exists at South Seattle College, the program at Seattle Central is the only one that provides a bakery program. And while program leaders want both programs to succeed, they believe that the Seattle Central location provides better accessibility for more students.
"Most of the jobs that people are going to get will be in the city. West Seattle is getting harder and harder to get to," said Chef Dan Flanders, academy instructor.
The board may decide to close the academy in a matter of days. The next meeting of the Seattle Colleges Board of Trustees is scheduled for May 12th. Before that a Budget Forum meeting is scheduled for May 4th. According to Chauncey, the school needs about a million dollars to keep it funded.
A website created by students addresses the situation for the academy. It's located at www.savesca.com.