The International Culinary Institute SUGAR, located in Pharr, Texas, was awarded recently by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation with the prestigious ACFEF Quality Program certification.

ICI SUGAR is the only post-secondary institution in the Rio Grande Valley dedicated exclusively to culinary arts training and education. Founded in 2010, the Pharr campus is the third campus to be owned and operated by Susana Garcia and the first to be founded in the United States under her signature name, SUGAR.

ACF, a nationally recognized certifying body for professional chefs and culinary programs, praised ICI for "delivering high standards in culinary arts education" upon issuing its certification to the school's administrative staff and owners.

"We were extremely pleased with the recognition, but we are not surprised," said Alfonso Morales, co-owner and son of the founder. "SUGAR was visited by a number of culinary experts representing ACF, and they examined our program and our campus for a long period of time before rendering their recommendation to the governing body. Throughout their visit, however, we were certain they would find what we have come to know about our school: we are simply the best."

The school hired Jose Cruz to serve as the managing director for the Pharr campus in June, and his first order of business was to await word from the ACF. "I fell in love with the school the moment I came onto campus. The faculty and students are remarkably professional and always showcasing their talent. I was certain the ACF would recognize the school, and I think it is our commitment to quality instruction and a growing culinary and hospitality workforce for the Valley that finally convinced them we are worthy of the recognition."

The culinary school has awarded a one-year certificate in culinary arts since 2013, when it was first licensed and approved to do so by the Texas Workforce Commission Career Schools and Colleges. Since that time, TWC has annually renewed the school's license and continues to oversee its operation to ensure quality of instruction and programming.

"It is my hope that ICI will now build on its recognition and long-standing commitment to quality in its culinary instruction," Cruz said. "Program expansion, greater specializations, and a focus on local workforce needs and culinary interests will drive our planning for the next five years. Next on our agenda is accreditation, to further enhance our standing in the education community and to offer our students more opportunities to invest in their future in the culinary arts."

ICI SUGAR was also certified recently as a Candidate for Accreditation by the Commission of the Council on Occupational Education, and the school hopes to earn its initial accreditation before the end of 2020 to coincide with its 10-year anniversary.

ICI SUGAR received the notice of the recognition without fanfare. "We are a dedicated group of educators. We appreciate the recognition," Morales said, "and we look forward to making more career dreams come true. Until then the work never ends, and we are just getting started."