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Arnold M. Knightly

Something cooking

11 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- High school student Ariel Wilson is using her summer for more-constructive pursuits than just playing video games or relaxing by the pool.

With dreams of becoming a pastry chef at the Luxor, the Canyon Springs High School sophomore-to-be is attending summer classes at the Culinary Training Academy for the second year.

"I've always wanted to be a professional chef," said Wilson, whose uncle and grandfather are professional chefs in Mississippi.

Wilson was the introductory speaker Tuesday at a luncheon celebrating the phase three groundbreaking for a $7 million expansion of the Culinary Training Academy's campus on West Lake Mead Boulevard in North Las Vegas.

The addition will bring a 600-seat community banquet and events center, a 120-seat bistro-style training restaurant and hotel suites modeled after different properties.

The academy's chief executive officer, Steven Horsford, said the expansion will help meet the growing need for skilled culinary workers at union properties.

The academy is a partnership between the Culinary Workers Local 226, its affiliate Bartenders Union Local 165 and 24 casinos on the Strip.

Nearly 60 percent of the program's participants are new to the industry, while the rest are sent by local properties for additional training.

Horsford said demand for skilled workers is rising. He said half the new jobs at large development projects under construction, such as MGM Mirage's CityCenter, will be culinary positions -- ranging from cooks and food servers to room attendants.

"The reality is, at any given time, there are 200 to 300 culinary jobs that go unfilled at any property," Felix Rappaport, the academy's board of trustees chairman, said.

Rappaport, who is also president and chief operating officer at Luxor, said the Strip restaurant landscape has changed from providing cheap nourishment to providing a fine-dining experience

One of the goals of the training program is to double the number of students who pass through the program every year from 3,000 to 6,000 by 2009. The program has trained more than 25,000 students since it opened in 1993 at a Days Inn on the corner of Seventh and Fremont streets.

The academy moved into its current facility in 2001 and expanded with a 12,000-square-foot training kitchen in October 2004.

Horsford, who is also a Democratic state senator from North Las Vegas, said the addition is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 10.

"We are not going to build anything that we don't think makes sense for the community and for our participants," Horsford said. "We are here to serve and, if the need is there, we'll continue to expand."

Wilson attends classes 30 hours a week during the eight-week summer program. She said she is thankful for the program for more than teaching her a skill under the tutelage off professional chefs.

"If this wasn't here, I'd probably be at home just sitting on the couch wasting away," she said.