Chambersburg’s Costa Academy gives students a taste of the culinary arts

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CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – For the past seven years, Michael Kalathas, owner of The Orchards restaurant, has served up the right ingredients to create a recipe for local students to thrive in the restaurant and hospitality industry through Costa Academy, a culinary arts school.

Costa Academy is named for his father, Costa “Charlie” Kalathas, a noted Chambersburg restaurateur who has operated the Historic Texas Lunch Diner for more than 50 years and opened The Orchards in 1994.

The culinary arts school, housed at The Orchards at 1580 Orchards Drive, offers sixth form and high school students an alternative educational program through a teaching style that encourages engagement, provokes confident decisions and inspires leadership, said Michael Kalathas, who also serves as president of the Academy.

“We want them to experience the work environment now, not later. With our knowledge of the hospitality industry, we are able to facilitate their learning process and help them master a trade with applied technical and soft skills,” said Kalathas, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2001, Kalathas returned to his hometown and took over the day-to-day operations — and eventual ownership — of The Orchards.

Kalathas said he always had a vision of starting a hands-on cooking school to give back to the community that gave so much to his family.

Demand surges for culinary professionals

Joanne Cochran, board member of Costa Academy and president and CEO of Keystone Health, said the Kalathas culinary arts school is a much-needed local resource.

“Franklin County (Pa.) is among the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania, with increasing opportunities for students pursuing culinary arts degrees,” said Cochran.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is expected to add an average of 200,000 new jobs each year between 2023 and 2030, with the total number of employees reaching 16.5 million by 2030.

With Pennsylvania’s closest culinary school two hours away in York, the academy is meeting the need for educational opportunities to train local students for restaurant careers, Cochran said.

According to Kalathas, while the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the growth of the restaurant industry, there is now a high demand for trained staff to work in restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, colleges and schools — all of which employ food service workers.

“You can see how great the need at the academy is. Not to mention this was started well before COVID. People tell us, ‘Wow, this is absolutely amazing, and we needed this years ago,'” Kalathas said.

He said many of the region’s chefs were trained at either The Orchards or the Costa Academy.

Andrew Fares, Costa Academy Cooking Instructor

Juan Lira, 24, enrolled in an early academy class as a senior at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. As a hands-on learner, Lira said he’s interested in immersing himself in the academy’s educational brand.

“I learn from books, but not so well from practice,” he said, “and as someone who wants to own their own business one day, I wanted to learn from someone who has successfully run their own business.”

Today, Lira is one of the executive chefs at The Orchards, as well as an instructor for the academy. He credits the Academy for his success.

“I learned so much from Costa Academy. I’ve definitely learned people skills and how to deal with customers and colleagues,” he said. “They also taught you how to cook on demand and think on the fly, which is very helpful in my day-to-day lifestyle.”

There is no tuition at the academy, which prepares students for careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry in about five months.

The Costa Academy accepts 20 to 25 students for its training courses, which take place from August to January and from January to May from 10am to 1pm. The schedule includes 30-40 minutes of classroom instruction followed by hands-on training in food preparation and cooking safety and techniques.

“The program is far more than just being a chef. We teach students the science of cooking as well as how to run a business,” Kalathas said, adding that academy graduates also receive ServSafe certification as part of the program.

College student Audrey Nicole bakes brick oven pizza while being mentored by chef Elios Gomez.

Currently, the academy is working with CASHS, the Chambersburg Area Career Magnet School and the Montessori Academy of Chambersburg to educate students and hopes to add Shippensburg and Greencastle-Antrim High Schools as partners. High school students earn 2.5 credits after completing the academy education.

The program was recently expanded to include post-secondary students interested in a career in hospitality. Through a partnership with Hagerstown Community College, Kalathas said students educated at the academy receive 15 credits towards their college education.

“If you wanted to go to HCC and you came and did the hours at Costa Academy, you took care of 15 credits — and you only need 60 to graduate with an associate degree,” Kalathas said. “That’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of students.”

Education at the academy is free because of support from the local community, including F&M Trust, WellSpan Health and Chambersburg Area Development Corp., he said.

Cooking a way of life

Bishop Diehl, 22, of Chambersburg, is employed as a chef at GearHouse Brewing Co. in Chambersburg. He said the academy changed his life when he was a junior at CASHS.

“When I was younger, I was kind of on the wrong track growing up,” he said, but attending the academy helped him find his passion.

“I learned about security policies. I’ve learned to cook much better. I learned the different variants of things. I’ve learned a lot,” he said.

If you’re a hard worker and passionate about food, you can make a living as a chef or cook in the area, Diehl said.

“(Costa Academy) can help children who are less fortunate or who don’t know what to do with their lives or who are too poor. That has really helped me a lot in my life,” said Diehl.

Kalathas said he is passionate about continuing to share his love of cooking through Costa Academy and is actively seeking resources to achieve his vision of having one of the premier culinary schools on the East Coast.

“I’ve been teaching people all my life, and food is a universal language. Food is love,” he said.

For information on Costa Academy, see www.costaacademy.org.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Fall issue of At Home Places magazine, a publication of Herald-Mail Media

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