Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp., which counts Spam among its roster of food products, is joining with a leading culinary school to promote the enhanced education of an "elite class of commercial and non-commercial chefs from around the country," the company said today.

"We want to invest in the future of the culinary arts, creating an innovation-focused program to prepare today's best and brightest for leadership in the field," said Dennis Goettsch, vice president of marketing in Hormel's food service division.

Goettsch approached leaders at the Culinary Institute of America in the spring of 2007 with the company's proposal.

The Culinary Enrichment and Innovation Program was created by institute and Hormel "to build tomorrow's culinary leaders and address a growing concern for employee retention by providing creative, competitive staff development," Hormel, headquartered in Austin, said in a news release.

Sixteen students will attend four highly intense three-day sessions at the institute's Hyde Park campus in New York over 18 months.

Graduates will receive advanced certification from the institute and become members of the Hormel Circle of Innovation.

The Culinary Institute of America offers bachelor's and associate degrees, as well as certificate programs, in either culinary arts or baking and pastry arts. Along with New York, it has campuses in California and Texas.

--Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482