Western Colorado Community College

Culinary Arts Program


The Culinary Arts program at Western Colorado Community College has led the way for training professionals in the region for the past 15 years. With the recent addition of Viticulture and Enology, the program also is the only public institutional wine program in the state.

Chef Instructor Dan Kirby, along with Kerry Youngblood who was then School District 51 Vocational Director, worked to combine its vocational education instruction with Mesa State College programs into one campus as the United Technical Education Campus (UTEP). Tim Foster, who was instrumental in landing funding for UTEP when he was in the State legislature, is now President of Colorado Mesa University, formerly MSU. Supported by MSU Trustee Lena Elliott , the fledgling program took roots and has consistently grown in scope.

For example, the Culinary Arts program has more than doubled in size to include a second degree offering in Baking and Pastry, and added facilities to teach sustainable gardening. Last semester the program introduced instruction in Viticulture and Enology, enhancing the marriage of culinary skills with knowledge available through the local wine industry veterans.

A strong faculty is key to success of the program. Chef Instructor Dan Kirby, CHE, was the Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2013 Regional Outstanding Professional. Chef Instructor Wayne Smith, CEC, CCE, who has been onboard from the beginning, is a past president of the Colorado Chefs’ Association and will succeed Kirby when he retires. Chef Instructor Jonathon St. Peter, CEC, was 2012-13 Colorado Chef of the Year. Chef Instructor Elizabeth Branscum brings wide experience as a culinary educator. Chef Instructor Deb Henderson is a former business owner as well as pastry and baking designer.

Last fall the program welcomed Jenne Baldwin- Eaton, who has 22 years experience as a wine maker at a local winery as well as a chemistry degree from Chico State and wine instruction at UC Davis.

The Culinary Arts program emphasizes techniques of the modern culinary kitchen. Students learn cooking and baking from scratch skills for soups, sauces, meat and seafood production, yeast-raised breads, cakes, pies, and pastries. Instruction focuses on the fundamentals of nutrition, menu planning, cost control, purchasing, marketing, safety, and sanitation. Students gain practical experience in advanced line cooking, dining room management and beverage service in Chez Lena, the student-operated restaurant, which is open to the public.

More Advantages

What may not be apparent to the casual observer are other advantages that available at a fraction of the cost of private culinary schools: classes taught in a modern culinary kitchen: an on-campus full-service restaurant (Chez Lena) for hands-on experience; a work-like classroom environment; two enrollment periods per year; classes that begin in the fall or spring, and the opportunity to earn bachelor’s degree in the CMU business school.

Tuition for a two year Associate of Applied Science degree in Hospitality Management at WCC costs about $16,000, not including fees and living expenses. That’s quite a bargain when compared with the Johnson & Wales University (Denver) four-year program with a BS degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management, in Baking & Pastry Arts and Food Service or in Culinary Nutrition at about $30,000 a year, excluding fees and housing. Johnson and Wales also offers an Associate degree in Baking and Pastry.

With the newest expansions, prospective chefs and managers also can look forward to learning about growing grapes and making wines–at a price they can afford.

The future is ripe with possibilities.

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Chef/Instructor Dan Kirby, AAS, CHE

The Grand Valley’s Godfather of Culinary Arts Instruction

Visionary probably best defines Chef/Instructor Dan Kirby, whether as a noun (person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like) or an adjective (inspired, imaginative, creative, inventive, ingenious, enterprising, innovative, etc.).

Kirby led the way in creating at Western Colorado Community College the training program that provides a creative work force that staffs an increasing number of Colorado restaurants and institutions.

A native of Wisconsin, Kirby drew on his long history as a chef, manager, salesman and entrepreneur in determining that education could be a valuable resource in the community. In fact, it was his HOJO employment that trained him as a chef and manager, eventually bringing him to Grand Junction after assignments in the Midwest and Florida. The man knows the practical side of the food industry.

As he explains it, when he was a representative of Sysco Foods, his clients frequently called on him to find trained chefs and kitchen crew to staff vacant slots. He soon realized that there was no local resource to feed qualified culinary employees into the businesses that needed them.

Coincidentally, then School District 51 Vocational Director Kerry Youngblood was thinking along those same lines. Youngblood was in the process of combining the vocation education campuses of both the district and Mesa State College and relocating them in Foresight Park as the new United Technical Education Campus (UTEC).

Youngblood also recognized the need for culinary training in support of the region’s tourism industry.With support at the state level from Tim Foster, who was a Colorado state legislator at that time, and locally from Lena Elliott, an MSC Trustee, phase two of UTEC, and the culinary arts program became a reality during the 1997-98 school year.

Fast forward 18 years: Tim Foster now is the president of Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State). UTEC has morphed into Western Colorado Community College/a division of CMU. The Culinary Arts program has more than doubled in size to include a second degree offering in Baking and Pastry, and added facilities to teach sustainable gardening. Last semester the program introduced instruction in Viticulture and Enology, enhancing the marriage of culinary skills with knowledge available through the local wine industry veterans.

After 30 years in the culinary field, Kirby has cut back on his class load on his glide path to retirement. As an Assistant Technical Professor of Culinary Arts, he teaches Supervision in the Hospitality Industry, Purchasing for the Hospitality Industry, and is the business manager of Chez Lena Restaurant. With the staff he has recruited and nurtured, he’s confident that even greater opportunities will evolve in the future. Chef/Instructor Wayne Smith, who has been with the program from the beginning, will be his successor and guardian of continuity.

Kirby was named the Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2013 Regional Outstanding Professional award winner, was the recipient of the Colorado Chef’s associations Presidential Medal, and was on the Colorado Restaurant Association Board of Directors from 2008 to 2013.

* Chez Lena, the student-operated campus restaurant, is named for MSU board member and early Culinary Arts program supporter Lena Elliott.

Wine Maker/Instructor Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, BS degree
Leader, Viticulture and Enology, Culinary Arts Program

As any serious foodie knows, great cuisine and wine are inseparable. So it follows that if aspiring chefs are learning to create cuisine professionally, they need to know how to pair wines that compliment their dishes.

That realization, coupled with the fact that the Grand Valley is home to the majority of Colorado’s grape growers and wineries, makes a strong case for the Western Colorado Community College to add new instruction on those specialties.

In the Spring semester of 2017, Jenne Baldwin-Eaton began her new teaching career as Program Lead for Viticulture and Enology at Western Colorado Community College. This is the first program of its kind in Colorado and it makes sense to offer it here on the Western Slope, in the heart of the wine industry. This program is offered through the Agriculture Department and has a lot of potential for collaboration between both the well-established Culinary Program and Sustainable Agriculture.

With 22 years of experience as winemaker at Plum Creek Winery, a pioneer of the Colorado wine industry, Baldwin-Eaton is uniquely qualified to teach her subjects: Fermentation Science, Fermented beverage, Winemaking and Vineyard Establishment & Management.

She earned her BS degree in Exercise Physiology with a chemistry minor at Chico State University in California. And throughout her twenty-two years has taken countless seminars and university classes specific to winemaking, along with judging several international wine competitions.

The program Baldwin-Eaton has inaugurated offers a two-year path to an Associate of Applied Science in Viticulture and Enology, as well as certificates in Viticulture, Enology, Wine Professional and Pre-Sommelier.

Encouraged by her experience this year. Baldwin-Eaton foresees the addition of a wine-making facility on campus to take instruction to the next level of hands-on involvement. Up until now, future winemakers and viticulturist had to bring their expertise with them to Colorado. Now, Western Colorado Community College is offering a way to learn a new career and for others in the industry, to increase their knowledge right in their own backyard. Baldwin-Eaton has a true pioneering spirit with the Colorado wine industry and reflects on her start in the industry, “I was fortunate to have a mentor at the beginning of my career and I hope to pay it forward by mentoring and getting other folks interested in the Colorado wine industry”.

Baldwin-Eaton lives with her husband and her dog, Merle in Palisade. She enjoys gardening, hiking and rafting.