Training the Next Generation of Chefs - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay

Training the Next Generation of Chefs

Students in Greater Tampa Bay are uniquely prepared to work in one of the area’s largest industries thanks to the local culinary programs.

There are a great many reasons why the food scene in Greater Tampa Bay is unique. The culinary community is just one of them.

Not only does GTB have many wonderful dining experiences for residents and visitors, but it also has a network of educators and professionals committed to training the next generation of chefs.

Love of Teaching, Love of Food

Two GTB chefs striving to train the food workers of the future are Chef Christy Rabich and Chef Tara Bishop, who run the Academy of Culinary Arts at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg.

Rabich came to Florida in 1993. Her resume includes a 13-year run at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg, working as personal chef for John Travolta and his family for several years and serving on an advisory board for high school students.

“I love kids, I love food and I love teaching,” said Rabich.

Rabich was able to utilize all three of those loves when she came to Dixie Hollins High School in 2011. At the time, the school only offered the academy classes she would later build into a complete program.

After Dixie Hollins’ Academy of Culinary Arts began to grow, Bishop joined Rabich. A French-trained pastry chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, she worked as the pastry chef at The Don CeSar hotel in St. Pete Beach for 13 years.

Through the Academy of Culinary Arts, students learn the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the competitive hospitality industry. They also learn how to conduct themselves ethically and professionally.

Throughout the four-year program, students explore the different aspects of the culinary trade and receive hands-on training in the foodservice and hospitality industry. Not only do they learn how to cook, but they also learn the ins and outs of running a kitchen and a restaurant. Nutrition, marketing, dining room management and restaurant design are also part of the curriculum.

Additionally, students earn college credit and three different industry certifications to continue their education after high school.

“Some do leave the program and go into the industry,” said Rabich. “If they do not go into it, they can still go into the hospitality industry.”

Complete Kitchen Education

Another program preparing future chefs is the Jacobson Culinary Art Academy at Tarpon Springs High School. Certified by the American Culinary Federation as an Academy of Distinction, the academy offers an education for a rewarding career in the foodservice and hospitality industry.

Chef Vincenzo Pesce is one of three chefs in residence at Jacobson Culinary Academy and a culinary instructor there. He has been a part of the local culinary scene for many years. After opening and operating his own restaurant for 23 years, he took on the teaching position at Jacobson where he has been for the last 10 years.

The academy’s facilities are state of the art, with two full-size kitchens, a lecture hall and 100-seat dining room.

The students learn everything about working in and running a kitchen, as well as how to be versatile in the industry. They learn all the different roles in the kitchen, as well as other restaurant positions.

“If they can do that, they can work well anywhere in the industry,” said Pesce.

 In addition to their classes, students participate in competitions throughout the state and country.

Pesce said the students are also able to get a foot in the door of the culinary community outside of the school. During their time at the academy, many of the program’s participants work in the local food industry in a variety of roles. Some are line cooks, prep cooks, hostesses; others work behind a counter or in a bakery.

“They are all over the place,” said Pesce. “It just blows me away, the work they do. Some do better than I could have imagined or taught them.”

Even with all the hands-on opportunities for learning, Pesce said the most important thing students can learn is teamwork and how to adapt. Both of those characteristics will be a help to them, no matter what their future holds.

“They have to really learn to work with others and cement that relationship,” he said.

Ties That Bind

Another important element of GTB’s culinary community is relationships. Specifically, the relationships that transcend the four years of the programs.

As a pastry chef, Bishop said she was working every holiday and had to pay someone to watch her two children. Rather than miss out on precious time with them, she became a culinary instructor and found something more fulfilling than she could have imagined.

“The students become like your kids,” said Bishop. “It means a lot when they come back and share what’s going on in their lives.”

See Also

Rabich said she also enjoys investing in her students’ lives and seeing them succeed in school and life.

“I have been cooking since I was 14,” she said. “I had a culinary instructor who said he was a teacher because he loved sharing his knowledge with others. That stuck with me. I love teaching the kids something useful that can get them through life.”

Pesce said the connection with his students and colleagues is the best part of the job for him.

“The amount of care that is there is unbelievable,” he said. “Seeing that the students are successful in whatever they do and getting that compliment or acknowledgement of the impact I had, I cannot describe that feeling.”

The Academy of Culinary Arts and Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy are just two of the culinary focused educational programs available in GTB’s three main school districts. Both are magnet programs, and students must apply to attend.

For more information on the Academy of Culinary Arts, go to, and for Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy go to

Culinary Programs in Greater Tampa Bay

Hillsborough County Public School District:

  • Culinary Arts Program at Progress Village Middle Magnet School,

Pasco County School District:

Pinellas County Schools:

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