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Coal miners cook up new profession

Five of the 25 aspiring chefs in the Culinary Arts School's freshman class came to the kitchen the hard way: via the coal mine. After years in the underground caverns, the five are trading their picks and shovels for whisks and spoons, their helmets for toques. This is not necessarily their choice; the mines are closing, and they need jobs.

But they are embracing their new careers.

"If I had never gotten laid off, that would have been sad. I would have never heard about the school," said Mary Yaworski, as she completed her first semester. "I never want to go back to coal mining. Never."

Yaworski spent 11{ of her 43 years underground, supporting her four children. Then, last fall, nearly half the 1,000 employees in the Beth Energy No. 33 mine in Cambria were laid off, and she was one of them.

"I thought, "Okay, Mary, you've done what you had to do to raise your family. Now, what do you want to do?' " she said.

The answer for Yaworski and three of her co-workers was the Culinary Arts School, established in 1989 by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The two-year program trains cooks certified by the American Culinary Federation.

A retraining program administered jointly by the United Mine Workers union and the coal industry under their 1988 contract will pay the two-year tuition of $17,000.

"Before I came here, I thought I could cook, but it's entirely different," Yaworski said. "It's classical cooking. In some classes, there was so much French I thought I was going to have to quit."

"When they first arrive, we treat them all as if they don't know how to boil water," said Kevin Duffy, a former chef for Intercontinental Hotels in Europe, Africa and Asia and the acting director of the school.

First-semester course work includes an introduction to hot foods, cold foods, baking and soups, stocks and sauces. Students are expected to be able to identify meat after the first semester and seafood after the second.

In the second year of the two-year program, students branch out into regional cuisine, wine and advanced table service.

"There's no room for loners," Duffy said. "We're getting them ready for teamwork."