Culinary apprenticeship helping Chicago kitchens return to pre-pandemic state by Patrick Elwood for WGN9

CHICAGO – At McCormick Place, culinary trainees are cooking up for better days to come.

A menu full of post-pandemic apps, entrees and desserts aside, the pandemic has been especially hard for the restaurant industry. The first-ever culinary apprenticeship class at McCormick Place is hoping their efforts will help return Chicago’s restaurant scene to normal.

“I’m happy to be back in the kitchen,” said trainee Roderick Todd. Like many in the culinary services sector, Todd says he hasn’t worked as much as he would like.

An amalgamation among Unite Here Chicago Hospitality Institute, Hire 360, McPier and Savor are starting the first-ever apprenticeship class. When students graduate, each will have the main ingredients needed to walk into any top-notch Chicago kitchen ready to go.

Chef David Oland, lead instructor, said the program incorporates some of the best culinary arts schools in America. For the next eight weeks, it’s water on the boil, burners up and knives at the ready.

“If you’re on time, you’re 15 minutes late,” Oland said.

Alongside Chef David is his assistant instructor Victor Martinez.

“I came here when I was 9-months-old,” Martinez said. “My dad was a chef so I learned the ropes through him.”

Todd says when he graduates from the program, he envisions a good job in a kitchen somewhere with plenty of hours mixed in. One day, he says, he plans on having his own establishment.

“This could be the first step to start my own business.”