Learning the Culinary Arts in Clear Lake

Learning the Culinary Arts in Clear Lake

story & photos by Ree Slocum

From a bond measure passed in 2007 by a mere 50 votes, Woodland Community College’s Lake County campus was funded with sixty-million dollars to build a new educational facility, including new classrooms, a library, and a state of the art culinary teaching center. Funding was also provided for Robert Cabreros, Chef Instructor of the Culinary Arts School, to plan the new classroom, kitchen, and restaurant.

Robert was ecstatic. “Imagine what kind of journey it was for me to go from a small trailer on campus, teaching twenty-five students on a four burner stove with one oven in 2006, to a state of the art culinary kitchen in 2012!” He continues, “The facility is also certified for being energy saving and efficient ... using less resources like water and electricity.” One of the energy saving devices in the new kitchen is an automated stove hood over the twelve burner stove. It runs on half the power of the old hoods and has a laser operated beam that senses smoke and turns on the fans when needed.


Cabreros, an accomplished chef and educator, had to rewrite the curriculum he’d been using. “It was an incredibly difficult and challenging project,” he said. “I saw it as a blessing in disguise.” He used the opportunity to plan a curriculum that included values like sustainability of locally sourced products, energy efficiency, grass fed animals and organic practices. While these ideas have come and gone in various regions of the United States, Cabreros sees those values as essential in California. “It’s important that if I’m going to take a student who’s passionate about our field, who’s going to grow and prosper, this is the foundation I think they should have,” Cabreros said.

In his classes, future chefs must do research. When they create a menu using only seafood as the protein, they utilize Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, which has three categories: Green (Best Choices), Yellow (Good Alternatives), and Red (Avoid). The list rates the seafoods according to how they are fished or farmed. Their objective is to inform consumers about the choices they’re making and steer them to “Green” seafoods, grown or harvested in ways that keep the ocean safe and healthy.

The students create compelling dishes like “California Wild Sea Bass Ceviche” made with Sonoma Coast Sea Bass, Lake County’s Adams Ranch cucumbers, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Red Onions and served on La Tortilla Factory tortillas from Santa Rosa. The menu informs customers where the ingredients are grown.

Students also create three course menus using local proteins and seasonal produce, again researching and creating recipes and menus for the summer and winter seasons. Their creations include resources from Lake, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties. Recipes are prepared with Mary’s Free Range Chicken or Clover milk products from Petaluma, Lake County walnuts and pears, the Mendocino and Lake County Food Hub’s greens, tomatoes, and more, as well as Mendocino County seafood and grains. This is just scratching the surface of what’s available locally for class assignments and Aroma’s Café, the on-campus restaurant run by culinary students.


The quality ingredients they prefer can be more costly than industrially farmed options. Cabreros has worked closely with individual farmers to mitigate that. He and a farmer will sit down with the school’s food receipts and the farmer’s budget. The farmer can sometimes lower the prices if the school’s orders can be large and consistent. Cabreros also can adjust his budget when a farmer has a unique or especially tasty product, as he has done in the past with locally grown heirloom tomatoes.

Aroma’s Café is an important element in the Culinary Arts Program. As well as creating and cooking the dishes, students learn about ordering, record keeping, finances, and how to serve the public. Cabreros’ program prepares his students to successfully step into a busy restaurant. The program was featured in a report from North Coast Opportunities about their Eat Well Lake County: Menus of Change initiative funded by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. The report read, “One of the best examples of Menus of Change being put to work comes from the Woodland Community College Culinary Program. Program Director Robert Cabreros incorporated the Menus of Change philosophy into the menu for Aromas Café.” He continues to train the next generation with the same values, seeking out responsibly sourced ingredients, supporting local farms, and crafting dishes that are a delight to prepare and share.

To learn more about Lake County’s Culinary Arts Program visit wcc.yccd.edu/academics/ career/culinary-arts/ To enjoy a tasty, locally sourced lunch visit Aromas Cafe at 15880 Dam Rd Exit, Clear Lake, California from 9-1 Tuesday through Thursday, 707-995-4804