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Culinary School Stratford Cooks Up Big Plans for Baltimore

After business analyst Tia Berry was laid off for the second time, she decided to take stock of her career and turn her passion for cooking into a new profession. Once she made up her mind, Berry, 42, wasted little time. She researched culinary institutes, packed her bags and moved from Florida to Maryland to attend the Baltimore International College (BIC) in 2010. Double majoring in professional cooking and professional baking, Berry was well on her way to realizing her professional dream when she hit another snag in her career track.
Last summer, as Berry was preparing for the fall semester at the 39-year-old culinary institute, rumors began to circulate that the college might lose its accreditation and close. Some students panicked and decided to switch cities, and schools. Berry, perhaps guided by the maturity that comes from experience, adopted a watch-and-wait approach.
Fast forward six months. BIC lost its accreditation, but Berry stayed put. She remains a culinary student in Baltimore, with plans to graduate with a bachelor's degree in culinary management from Stratford University a year from now.
Maryland’s food industry generates nearly $3 billion a year in sales and employs 177,000. Having a four-year culinary school in Baltimore means that hopeful chefs meant that this money and talent – students like Berry – will hopefully stay in the Free State.
“We certainly did not want to lose a local culinary program,” says LaDeana Wentzel, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Education Foundation. "We were excited that Stratford, a quality institute, moved into this area.”
In addition to Baltimore, the for-profit university also operates four campuses in Virginia and one in New Delhi, India. And it is known for taking a personal interest in each student, Wentzel says. At its Falls Church, Va., headquarters, it keeps flags representing each of the countries from which its international students hail.
And Stratford is cooking up big plans to put its mark on the culinary landscape in Baltimore. Major real estate moves are on the horizon, as the school plans to consolidate its classrooms into its main spot in Little Italy and purchase another building. Next spring, it will open a community kitchen sponsored by the American Heart Association, which will teach residents about healthy eating while offering students a chance to test their culinary skills.
"Our commitment to Baltimore is to make a difference,” Stratford CEO Richard Shurtz says. “Any time we go into a new location, whether it's New Delhi or Baltimore, that commitment is the same," Shurtz says.
Seeds of change
Aside from the bright blue banners announcing Stratford University that hang outside the school’s main Baltimore building at 210 S. Central Ave., outsiders might think very little has changed between the closing of BIC and the January opening of Stratford University's newest campus.
The Baltimore campus occupies the same space as the former culinary institute, offers closely related programs in culinary arts and hospitality management, and has hired many of the same instructors who taught at BIC. In fact, the change has been referred to in the media—erroneously, according to Stratford University officials—as a merger. But Stratford officials emphasize its uniqueness.
"We didn't take over [BIC]. We started a new campus," Shurtz says. With 208 students counting on him, Shurtz is determined to build the university's reputation in Baltimore.
Unifying the campus

Currently, downtown's Commerce Street houses some of the university's classroom space. To consolidate classroom and lab space, all classes will move to Stratford's main Baltimore location at 210 S. Central Ave.
Longer term, the university is considering purchasing and renovating an abandoned school building adjacent to its primary location on Central Avenue for additional space, giving the campus an additional 60,000 square feet of space.
Because the university hasn't made an offer yet, it won't disclose additional details.
"The plan is to put roots down here, grow here, and be Baltimore residents," says Laura Bristow, director of Stratford's Baltimore campus.
For now, the Baltimore campus of Stratford University will remain focused strictly on culinary arts and hospitality although its other campuses offer degrees in additional disciplines—including business administration, computer information systems, nursing and others.
Stratford will work with the state’s higher education commission to determine if any other programs will be added in the future, says Eric Frauwirth, Stratford University's Baltimore campus dean.
Community partnerships

Shurtz plans to forge several new community partnerships that he hopes will have a positive impact on the eating habits of local residents while providing the university's students with opportunities to share their culinary skills.
With just one major grocery store in downtown Baltimore, Shurtz says he senses an opportunity for Stratford. The school is partnering with the American Heart Association to open a community kitchen on campus, where Stratford students will conduct workshops to teach local community members how to cook healthy food on a budget. Currently, the heart association is raising an undisclosed amount of funds to support the initiative.
"This is a nice marriage between what the city needs and what the heart association's goals are," says Rhonda Ford Chatmon, vice president of volunteerism and health equity for the heart association's mid-Atlantic affiliate. "This is addressing the lack of skills around cooking that have happened over the last three or four generations."

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer, covering topics as diverse as parenting and public health. She writes for several local print and web outlets, universities, and medical centers.


Tia Berry, Stratford University culinary student

Eric Frauwirth, Stratford University Baltimore dean

Stratford University baking class

Thomas Ford and Kimberly Leonard make a pound cake.

Stratford University baking class

All photographs by STEVE RUARK
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