By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

The program director of the Cascades Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College resigned at the beginning of July.

Gene Fritz, who became the program’s leader in 2011, was a celebrated hire when he first arrived at the college. Fritz rose from working in a field kitchen during the Persian Gulf War to graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, later working in leadership roles at Le Cordon Bleu in Seattle and Washington State University’s School of Hospitality Business Management. During his tenure at COCC, the culinary program opened the Jungers Culinary Center, students began operating a restaurant and enrollment climbed despite a fall in the overall college’s enrollment.

COCC President Jim Middleton wrote in an email that Julian Darwin, who founded the Cascades Culinary Institute and is program coordinator, will “assume a higher profile role” as other college administrators assist with operations and the transition to a new leader.

COCC spokesman Ron Paradis described the resignation as “a mutual decision” reached by the college and Fritz, adding, “Gene did a lot of great work moving the Culinary Institute forward and we plan to continue moving it forward.”

Fritz, who said he plans to remain in Bend, said his resignation “wasn’t motivated by anything I can put my finger on,” but that he’s excited to have “a broader impact.”

“We agreed that for the things I wanted to do and was excited about, I’d be better fed doing them externally,” Fritz said. “The college can continue to build on the success we had, and I was able to say, ‘Hey, I wish the institution success,’ and we parted amicably.”

Fritz said he hopes to work as a consultant for other culinary education programs, helping to “raise the waterline of culinary education nationally.” He said he is also in talks with a partner to start a local restaurant consulting business.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,