Guy Fieri was right when he said that cooking is all about people. Whether it’s at a table or in the kitchen, food has this amazing ability to bring people together. And PGA WEST® is doing just that with its participation in the J-1 Culinary Program. Also known as the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program, this innovative one-year cultural exchange program allows students, recent graduates, and young professionals from around the world to participate in an internship consisting of culinary training and work experiences.
Executive Chef Aaron Christopher brought the program to PGA WEST where he and his team instruct six students—five from the Philippines and one from Turkey. The students are working full-time in the Membership restaurants and banquet catering until May when they move to a San Diego resort for the second half of their training.
“The students provide insight into their country and culture while learning about the American culture, ideas, and food practices,” says Chef Aaron. “It’s a terrific immersive experience that really gives them an edge on career advancement opportunities.”
Chef Aaron and the PGA WEST culinary team helped organize temporary housing for the students—even providing kitchenware and a refrigerator filled with food to make them feel at home—and the interns regularly carpool to work with local staff. As far as their job responsibilities, “they are really doing everything,” he notes. “From preparing ingredients to assisting chefs, learning the ins and outs of pastry making and handling the grill, there are a lot of opportunities for hands-on experience.”
As much as the international students gain from the program, Chef Aaron and his team reap the rewards too. “It’s so great seeing them learn and grow,” he says, noting that, after six weeks, one of the students is excelling on the grill at Member fine dining restaurant Kennedy’s.
Moreover, the opportunities to interact with the PGA WEST Membership—for instance, when students man an omelet station during a Member event—promote engagement and communication with guests. This type of frontline customer service experience is particularly essential for students whose goal is to one day own or manage a restaurant.