Dan Thiessen has lots of plans, and they all involve food and education.

Thiessen, a native of Asotin, Wash., is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and an accomplished executive chef with serious cred. As the recently appointed director of the newly branded Wine Country Culinary Institute at Walla Walla Community College, Thiessen has made it his mission to create a world-class and affordable culinary program with a hospitality emphasis.

And he wants members of the community to get in on the experience. 

Thiessen is developing a program rivaling culinary schools like the Culinary Institute of America in New York, at a fraction of the cost. Charging $51,000 for tuition, the New York institute is out of reach for many students.

At less than $15,000 for the 18-month course, WCCI is a veritable bargain.

The program, accredited by the American Culinary Federation, also features an invaluable “pairing” with the college’s prestigious enology and viticulture program, a distinction unrivaled by any other culinary institute.

The Institute’s comprehensive program currently accommodates 45 students. To keep the student-to-instructor ratio optimal, WCCI admits 18 students in the spring and fall semesters. The Institute offers an associate degree in Culinary Arts and a one-year Culinary

Arts Certificate. 

Students at WCCI range in age from 18 to 65 and include people who are looking for not only first, but even second or third careers. Students learn and work in groups of 18, beginning with the fundamentals of the culinary arts with classes in basic soups and sauces, baking and pastries, grilling, and food and wine pairing. They become familiar with American regional cuisine, as well as foods of the Americas, Europe and Asia, before incorporating plating and presentation.

The program also stresses ServSafe training and classes in menu development and restaurant management. Students also complete a co-op assignment in the restaurant business, or through Titus Creek Café and Catering or the institute’s Mobile Kitchen.

Taking advantage of sources in the Valley and the college’s greenhouse (soon to be winterized for year-round use), students make use of fresh, local ingredients. 

Graduates of the Institute find careers in the food industry, including positions as cooks, kitchen managers, banquet managers, pastry chefs, sous-chefs, executive chefs, food and beverage directors; some open their

own restaurants. 

The Institue has a popular catering program based out of the Titus Creek Café at the college. This summer has seen the debut of its Mobile Kitchen, branded with the Wine Country Culinary Institute logo and Titus Creek Catering. The colorful trailer is adorned with student-coined phrases like “skool grub, edible education and seasonal sensations.”

The menu includes apple-wood-smoked, cider-braised pork sliders; Lostine Cattle Company burgers; El Burrito de Pato; and a variety of baked goods.

It will also be utilizing the Mobile Kitchen to enhance its custom-catering capabilities, including wine dinners at area wineries. 

If you’d like to improve your culinary skills but you’re not an aspiring professional chef, consider the new Community Kitchens program, tailored for locals and tourists alike. Try the variety of modestly priced, Tuesday-night, one-time classes, with offerings like “Asian Noodles,” “Thai Cooking,” “Ice Cream and Sorbet,” “Sushi,“ “Chocolate 101” and “Knife Skills.”

On Thursday nights over the summer, WCCI will feature “Cuisines of the World” — Italian, Spanish, Cajun/Creole, Argentinian, Peruvian, French and Mediterranean.

The Institute is also offering the Farmers Market Tour and Experience on July 14, Aug. 11 and Sept. 8. Hook up with the tour at the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market, plan the day’s menu, then meet at the Culinary Institute kitchens at WWCC and create a four-course luncheon and enjoy tasting nature’s bounty.

If you want to immerse yourself in culinary enlightenment, sign up for the four-day, intensive Baking Boot Camp or go all in with the Culinary Boot Camp. The camp provides you your very own chef’s jackets, pants, hats and aprons. For those attending from outside the area, special packages are available at

local hotels.

Diane Reed is a freelance writer, photographer and observer of life. When the spirit moves her, she blogs about the Walla Walla Valley at www.ponderingsbydianereed.blogspot.com. Email her at ladybookww@gmail.com.