What students can expect when pursuing careers in culinary arts

11/27/2011  |  MARK W. ALLISON
technical career options for students

Over 600 students graduated in May 2011 at our Charlotte Johnson and Wales graduation ceremony at the Time Warner Cable Arena; ready to join the work force in hospitality — one of the biggest industries in the world. Many of the students I talked to stated that they hoped to own their own business upon graduation or after gaining valuable industry knowledge in the future. This leads to the question: Do they understand the expectations of the modern day chef?

When I left culinary school, or catering college as it was called back in the day some 32 years ago, you did your two years of study, left with your qualifications and started as a commis in a local restaurant or hotel. The brave traveled to the big cities to apprenticeship in the Ritz, the Savoy, or another five star hotel — if they knew someone that could get them in, that is.

Now hard work and recognition seem to follow quickly for the young and the bold. A chef no more these days, he or she needs to be a foodservice entrepreneur who assumes the roles of chef, artist, marketing manager, human resources manager, customer relations manager, operational engineer, protector of the environment and sustainability, CFO, mutritionist, career counselor, celebrity, part-time pot washer and community supporter.

An Overview of Culinary Arts Programs

Today’s culinary courses need to cover all of the aspects of our industry. For example, the associate degree program in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) — the only culinary school in America with university after its name — provides students with practical education in food production, while developing professionalism and excellence in academic achievement. Students progress through a program of study that builds proficiency in food production and cooking, cost control, nutrition, sanitation, food safety and food marketing. Hands-on training is paired with traditional academic courses resulting in a curriculum that is both dynamic and directly aligned with industry needs.

The focus of the first year culinary lab classes is the development and practice of cooking skills, complemented by the development of baking, dining and beverage service skills, which include national certification in alcohol intervention procedures. The academic areas include mathematics, introduction to menu planning and cost control, English composition, community service, professional development and a National Food Safety certification.

Becoming a great chef is about more than technique, it’s about mastering the art and also the business of culinary arts. Students develop not just craft skills, but the efficiency and discipline to build a successful culinary career. Where is the industry headed? What are the major trends? How do you keep a kitchen running at full speed? Students learn all of this by working one-on-one with expert chef-instructors in the culinary labs.

The faculty at JWU have opened restaurants, hosted TV shows and published cookbooks. They’ve worked with master chefs, dieticians and certified sommeliers and are passing their expertise on to the students.

Second year laboratories include advanced techniques in classical and international cuisines, garde manger, patisserie/desserts and dining room service, as well as the academic areas of leadership studies, personalized nutrition management and communication skills. Students will experience one term of experiential education, which includes internships.

During this culinary internship, students participate in actual public food service operations in preparation for their future careers. Possible sites include university-owned facilities, hotels, restaurants, country clubs, resorts, casinos, spas, as well as leading companies and restaurants like Marriott International, Compass North America, America’s test kitchen, Per Se, Nobu and Walt Disney World. Eligibility requirements for certain sites include a 2.75 cumulative GPA and completion of all prerequisite coursework.

Additionally, select students have the opportunity to participate in international internships at host company sites throughout the world, which are chosen by the university. In addition to meeting specific college eligibility requirements, students interested in completing an international internship must maintain a 3.25 cumulative grade point average and have a minimum of one year of work experience in a full-service restaurant or similar experience in a hotel or resort.

There’s a world of culinary inspiration out there. JWU students can learn about baking and pastry arts in France and discover the secrets of French bread, petits fours, and complex pastries. They have the opportunity to study with top pastry chefs at the legendary Ecole National Superieure de la Patisserie, owned by chefs Alian Ducasse and Yves Thuries.

Students can hone their pairing and tasting skills in the heart of Germany’s wine country. They will see the wine making process in action in the intense sommelier-training course, with excursions to the vineyards of France and Switzerland. They can experience the wonders of Florence’s cuisine, work with the finest ingredients and apprentice at the Apicius restaurant Ganzo at the same time explore art galleries, ancient ruins, famous cheese factories, bakeries, chocolate labs and wine cellars of Italy.

They have the opportunity to taste European cuisine in Switzerland and stay on top of the latest European trends, work with artisan cheeses, and desserts in hands-on kitchens and explore five star hotels in Gustaad, Zurich and Luzen, not to mention renowned breweries, bakeries and famous chocolate factories.

JWU students can choose to travel to Peru to see why Bon Appetit calls Lima “the Gastronomic capital of South America” and indulge in Peru’s Spanish, African and Asian influences, diverse climates and fresh ingredients.

There’s an art to preparing cuisine from China, India, Singapore, and Malaysia. Students interning in these countries learn from the masters and even prepare a meal for At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy, take tea ceremonies, visit spice gardens and explore temples and palaces.

In the culinary world, speed and efficiency are just as important as a strong sense of culinary craft. Students can prove they have what it takes by competing in regional, national and international culinary competitions. Students can test their creativity, stamina and teamwork by competing. Each year the culinary and baking and pastry students compete against one another at the intra-campus culinary competition (ICC) hosted at one of JWU’s four campuses. Held every four years in Efurt, Germany, the IKA Culinary Olympics are one of the most prestigious competitions in the world — and one of the most challenging. Students from all campuses can work alongside JWU chef-instructors to create show-stopping platters.

At JWU students have the ability to receive two culinary degrees in four years — an Associate (AS) after the first two years and a Bachelors (BS) after the second two — which gives them greater flexibility in customing their career paths. Whether students are looking to become an executive chef, a sports nutritionist, or a food beverage director — it’s all possible.

Master the craft of culinary arts in the best hot and cold kitchens, pastry labs, and bake shops — JWU kitchens look and function like those in commercial spaces and they’re stocked with the finest ingredients and industry-standard equipment.

Manage supply and demand in our storerooms — students learn firsthand what it takes to keep a kitchen stocked and humming. Work with outside vendors, experience all aspects of the supply chain and learn about safe storage and organization.

Students refine their skills and learn the secrets of good dining service and how it relates to back-of-house preparation. Then they work on customer service in fully functioning dining rooms. Wine and beverage pairing is an increasingly important part of fine dining. In our beverage and microbrewery labs, students expand their palette and analyze what makes pairings work.

Have you ever wondered how wine ferments? Or what makes food spoil? In our microbiology labs students learn about the biology of food-related processes and how they relate to food safety. In order to reach shelves, food products are tested, analyzed and tested some more. In our product research labs, students work in teams to develop their own market ready foods.

There are endless possibilities for students who wish to pursue their culinary arts degree. We look to teachers to encourage the right students to pursue this dream.

Prior to being named dean of culinary arts education at JWU’s Charlotte Campus, Mark W. Allison taught Garde Manger, Classical French and International Cuisine. Allison holds a Certifi cation in Education from the University of Wales and a Master’s degree in Business Administration with distinction from Leicester University. For more information, visit www.jwu.edu.
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