PCCC Chef James Hornes (left) and staff chef Michael Grossi.
A Chef’s Hunger to Teach is Satisfied at PCCC
Thirteen years ago, Chef James Hornes came to Passaic County Community College with a hunger to teach. “I want to share and pass on my knowledge,” he explained. Director of the Culinary Arts Program at the College, Hornes nourishes students with the fruits of his 25 years in the food business. He is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and once managed an urban eatery, worked in catering, and eventually operated his own restaurant at a summer resort.
Today, Hornes oversees the PCCC campus cafeterias in Paterson and Wanaque, teaching students the rudiments of the food business in the environment of a professional kitchen.
They learn what he calls “back of house,” skills: kitchen management, proper food handling, cooking methods, techniques for working different stations, and much more.
“I don’t know of any other program that trains food service workers,” Hornes explained with pride. “Most programs concentrate only on training chefs.”
A New Jersey native who always enjoyed cooking for pleasure, Hornes spent 15 years as a production manager for Maxwell House, the coffee company in Hoboken. When that industry started to fluctuate, he sought other options to make ends meet, working at a friend’s bar and restaurant. Eventually he became manager, but felt he needed more background in the business. “I realized that I was managing the staff, but I didn’t really know the jobs of my own employees,” said Hornes. So he entered the Culinary Institute of America and started life as a chef. In addition to jobs in various restaurants and catering facilities, Hornes opened a place of his own in Long Beach Island at the Jersey shore, operating in the summer.
Challenges of the Career
“It takes a real passion to do this work,” said Hornes. “It’s very demanding and conditions are tough. In summers a kitchen can reach over 100 degrees. You’re on your feet all day and there’s a lot of heavy lifting involved,” he explained. The chef describes other challenges of the job. “When I worked in production, I only had to please my boss,” he said. “Here, you’re pleasing as many people as you serve.” But he also acknowledges the positives, “To get compliments from complete strangers who enjoyed a meal is very rewarding.”
Hornes enjoyed an unusual challenge a few years ago, when he was invited – along with PCCC staff chef Michael Grossi - to Operation Sail, a U.S. Navy training program. Both chefs are members of the American Culinary Federation, which recommended them to program. There, they managed the kitchen of a Navy ship and provided instruction to the food service workers on board.
The ship set sail from Norfolk, Virginia for a 10-day period where sailors were trained in Navy response techniques for overboard rescues, on-board fires, and other at-sea emergencies. “They were constantly training and ate four times a day,” Hornes said. “Most of their food is frozen, and it was a challenge to develop nutritious and interesting meals from that,” he added. “We tried to prepare the foods to create variety and excitement for them and also to give them a better presentation.”
Prepping Promising Futures
This dedication to details is integral to Hornes’ teaching methods and to his vision for the future of the food industry. “Job prospects are promising,” he said. “More people than ever are eating out, especially in families where both parents work, and with the aging population, there will be a need for food service workers in senior citizen facilities.”
Hornes is confident the training his students receive in the Culinary Arts Program – part of the College’s Continuing Education and Workforce Development courses - will increase their job opportunities. “They’ll be able to handle multiple positions in a kitchen and will be more valuable to an employer, improving their potential for promotions.” Many of his former students, he said, have continued their education, earning a degree and the rank of chef. Others have found positions in hospitals, restaurants, and catering facilities.
Hornes also foresees his capable graduates will help enhance the quality of the entire industry. He bemoans the fact that in order to keep costs down, many restaurants hire staff with little training or experience, affecting both the quality of the food and the service. “The preparation of the food, especially in chain restaurants, can be monotonous and often the servers are not knowledgeable or trained to make the dining experience a pleasure for the patrons,” he explained.
Passing his knowledge on to his students, Hornes believes he can ensure quality in the future of the industry. “Teaching is the closest a person can get to immortality,” he affirms.