Richard Brumm, CEC, Director of Culinary Operations at the Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs, Fla., knows the value of hands-on instruction. After all, he got his first job when he was 14 years old as a dishwasher at a bakery, and later worked under a master chef.Now Chef Brumm is paying his experiences forward with Bonita Bay’s Culinary Boot Camp, a program the club has created for students at Estero (Fla.) High School.
“We’re here to help high school students find career paths and show a way for people to be productive and successful and to learn in an alternate method,” he says. “I see a lot of value in the process of teaching, mentoring, and passing along the craft.”
For the last three years, Brumm has worked closely to develop the program with Jeremy Jasper, a former chef educator at Estero High who now works with his wife’s educational consulting company,. “Getting your community involved with your school is one of the most important things you can do,” says Jasper. “Bonita Bay was absolutely fantastic. They welcomed the kids.”
Once again this year, over four six hour days in July, Brumm and his team of sous chefs introduced the four Boot Camp students to the entire food preparation process, starting with sanitation,
shipping and receiving, and basic knife skills. They then progressed to sauce work, vegetable fabrication, cold dish preparation, and platter creation. Students also learned the basics of seafood, poultry, and beef preparation.
“We’ve had students come in who truly have never seen where their food comes from. The program opens a lot of eyes,” Brumm says.
To cap their experience, the students worked 12 hours on the Boot Camp’s final day, for “POETS” (Phooey On Everything Else, Tomorrow’s Saturday) Night, the club’s signature Friday-evening themed buffet. After helping to prepare a Creole dinner for club and school board members, students received a certificate of completion and a 10-inch, professional chef’s knife to start their personal collection.
“The students see how all of these components come together to create an event,” says Brumm.
Jasper had 168 students in his culinary program this past year. For the first year of Boot Camp in 2016, he chose seniors
for the Bonita Bay program, but students had to apply for the spots the last two years. Jasper looks for “kids who love and enjoy cooking and every aspect of being in the kitchen. They’re not necessarily straight-A students,” he explains. “They’re the ones that have that spark.”
Bonita Bay’s General Manager, Dan Miles, says the club originally launched the program as a community outreach. As a fortuitous byproduct, however, the Culinary Boot Camp has helped the property identify and develop entry-level talent in a challenging labor market.
“A lot of trades are finding it’s more and more difficult to find people who are interested in learning them,” says Brumm. “Boot Camp has been a creative way for us to market ourselves to the local school’s culinary program and show kids a real snapshot of a kitchen.”
And it seems to look picture-perfect to them: Three of the four students from the inaugural Boot Camp started working at Bonita Bay. One is still there, and three of the four most recent Boot Camp graduates, who are now high school seniors, also joined the Bonita Bay culinary staff part-time.
According to Miles, Bonita Bay Club is looking to expand its community outreach efforts. A new school, Bonita Springs High School, opened this academic year, and Bonita Bay hopes to offer some of its students the chance to attend Culinary Boot Camp as well. In addition, notes Miles, the property would like to revive a similar program it had in the past for agronomy students.