Scott Crum’s goal is to—pardon the pun—help others develop a taste for cooking. Crum is the instructor for the relatively new food-service industry training (FIT) program offered by the Pikes Peak Library District. In an intense program of four hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks, students learn such essentials as knife skills, how to make stocks and soups, basic cooking techniques, and food safety.

This isn’t a class for home cooks, he says. It’s aimed at people who want to pursue a career in the food industry. When completed, students get a certificate recognizing their accomplishment. And, if they pass the food safety test, they get certified by ServSafe—the industry standard for basic food sanitation training.

Food presentation is as important as preparation.

Recent graduates also were presented with a chef’s coat, two pairs of chef’s pants, shoes, and chef-quality knives to start their new career. And it didn’t cost them a dime. The program provides all equipment and basic training by an experienced chef. Crum, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in a variety of food-service venues, is excited about teaching.

After he finished teaching his first class in the fall, he discovered, “I really had a lot of fun, and I think the students learned a lot.” Crum believes the eight students who graduated from that class are already employed in the industry, which he says pays about $30,000 a year to start for prep cooks and line cooks.

Classes are held in the kitchen and dining space the library inherited when it bought Library 21c from MCI in 2011. Several catering companies have tried to use the space, but the customer base was inadequate for success. So what else do you do with a kitchen in a library?

In 2018, the library’s adult education and creative services teams were tasked with creating some programs in conjunction with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. The culinary industry was one of the areas identified as needing job training, says Becca Cruz, director of creative services for the library. “We realized we had a unique opportunity to renovate an existing space and (offer) the program,” she adds. “The next thing we’re looking at is creating programming through the library to offer classes. We might work with a dietitian to do a class, for example.” All classes will be free and open to the public. Funding for the program has come from federal grants, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the PPLD Foundation, and Friends of the PPLD as well as some private donations.

Meanwhile, the library hopes to offer at least four cooking school sessions a year. Crum has discovered that many of the students speak limited English and are learning the language while learning to cook. “I think that’s amazing,” he says. “And I’m learning some of their languages and culture, too.” He hopes that some of his students will learn that they like cooking enough to continue their culinary training, possibly with the program at Pikes Peak Community College (see sidebar).

So why is learning to cook such a great skill? “The food industry is so vital to our culture now,” Crum says. “It’s a basic skill that can lead to all sorts of jobs. By taking this class, someone who is interested in it can find out if it’s for them. It might not be, but if it is, this is a start. And it won’t cost them anything to find out.”

Chef Scott Crum teaches his students about food safety and can get them certified.

Chef Scott