Line cooks are the foot soldiers of the kitchen.
They are the boots on the ground, the knives on the cutting boards, the garnish on the plate or restaurants. The speed and quality of their work makes or breaks an establishment.
Next fall, Blackhawk Technical College hopes to establish a one-year line cook program. The program, which still has to be approved by the state’s technical college board, is being developed in response to local business needs and labor trends, said Joe Wollinger, culinary arts instructor at BTC.
“The program came together after hearing a lot of community needs,” he said.
Wollinger saw a story in a Madison newspaper about restaurants unable to open because of the lack of line cooks.
“I called restaurants up and down Milton Avenue, and their response was, ‘Oh, my God, we need this,’” Wollinger said.
The proposed program would incorporate seven existing courses, such as food service sanitation, quality production and catering. Those courses would be adapted to focus on the line cook’s job.
In a memo to the Blackhawk Technical College Board, Gina McConoughey, dean of the business and general education division, wrote that a survey of restaurants “confirm(s) the pervasive, ongoing need for line cooks, with 100 percent of respondents needing line cooks immediately at starting wages of $11.00-$17.00 per hour.”
In addition, a survey of members of BTC’s employer advisory committee showed that they expected to hire 27 line cooks in the next year and 52 in the next three years.
“The surveyed employers stressed the need for trained line cooks, prep workers, expediters and managers,” the memo stated.
A recent search through online job listings showed plenty of line cook jobs in the area with pay ranging between $10 and $15 an hour.
The mean, or average, wage of restaurant cooks in Wisconsin was $11.61, according to a 2016 U.S Department of Labor Statistics report. Average annual salaries ranged from about $24,400 to $25,400.
A year of tuition at Blackhawk Technical College is about $3,172, said Gary Kohn, marketing and communications manager for the college.
If the state’s technical college board approves the proposal, Wollinger hopes to develop a program that would allow students to work while they attend classes.