James Simmers, Moraine Park’s Culinary Arts instructor, began cooking when he was just 12 years old.
“My mother worked in the evenings, so she would set out recipes and ingredients for me to cook for my father and me,” Simmers said. “Eventually, she just started leaving out ingredients and told me what to make. That is when I fell in love with cooking and decided to pursue it as a career.”
He attended culinary school in Chicago at the Kennedy-King Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute and began working in the industry as a head chef. He later earned his bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from UW-Stout. From there, Simmers moved to Green Lake and worked as an executive chef at the Heidel House Hotel and Conference Center.
“I realized I really wanted to start a family but did not feel that I could do it with the hours I was working,” Simmers said. “I began thinking about my options and knew I wanted to be around people to either train or teach.”
Simmers began teaching part-time at a Wisconsin Technical College System sister school and accepted his full-time teaching position at Moraine Park in 1999. He has two children, Joseph and Jessie.
“I love meeting the new students every year and seeing the difference from when they start to when they finish their degrees,” Simmers said. “When they leave, they are much more assertive and confident in their skillsets.”
Simmers is well-known on campus for his positive attitude and ability to make people laugh. His favorite foods to cook are Mediterranean, North African, Brazilian and South American cuisines.
“I think the best thing about our Culinary Arts program at Moraine Park is the size,” Simmers said. “Our classes are smaller than most other culinary schools, so there is more attentiveness. Also, our restaurant it’s not just a restaurant-it’s a business that the students are tasked with running, and they learn much more than cooking.”
The Culinary Arts two-year associate degree program at Moraine Park provides training in all aspects of food preparation and production. Students gain real-world experience at Moraine Park’s “Park Terrace” restaurant, a student-guided learning environment. At Park Terrace, students develop menus, design table layouts, create management plans, oversee production in an active restaurant and more.