By: William V. Eaton, FFCSI – Chairman of the Board, Washington, DC Office
And Nahum Goldberg – Senior Associate, San Francisco Office
Culinary Schools tend to have a personality all to themselves, driven to a great extent by a combination of the teaching faculty and the history of the school itself. Schools with decades, and in some cases centuries of history, have a strong basis in tradition. That does not say that they are not forward thinking, just that there is history and tradition to be considered as they continue to mature. Newer schools tend to look at the historic leaders for guidance and direction and then strive to match, or even surpass, the cornerstone institutions. Each seems to find its place in the fabric of Culinary excellence, providing a firm basis in culinary skills and then fostering the individual growth of the student so that he or she can attain the position in the industry that fits the skills and passion exhibited.
As we work with culinary schools across North America, we form a partnership with the various stakeholders including faculty and administration in order to define the ultimate goals of the institution and then work carefully to provide the tools necessary to meet the vision. Standards of design often relate to the class size and individual laboratory and student workspace as well as how the workstations are developed and whether students work individually, in pairs, or occasionally in groups of four, or even six. There is no “right” configuration, but one that meets the teaching format of the faculty. Some important elements and considerations include accessible workstations, teaching and demonstration stations with maximal visibility by students, and the inclusion of 21st century technology options such as smart cameras and screens for demo stations, prep and cooking cams to view the Café kitchen, POS/printers/communications technologies in the Café, and where applicable, the infrastructure for educational recordings and broadcasts. These details are narrowed down as a direct result of our research in the early programming phases. Generally, as the faculty and instructors download their ideas, we are able to combine and sort them into the best arrangement for each teaching application.
The most significant trends in the industry relate to preparing the students for the vast array of culinary options that currently exist and are changing and expanding daily. While not every student is destined to be a highly acclaimed chef, just as not every athlete is destined to be an Olympic Medalist, none should be dissuaded from aspiring to that position. Teaching laboratories require the best in equipment, a variety of manufacturers, and a variety of fuels. Flexibility in design is key to “future-proofing” the facility as menu, curriculum and area usages change over time. This can be achieved by making cooking equipment mobile, plug-and-play and not built-in. Utility systems (power, water, fire suppression systems and drains) can be placed at key locations to allow for equipment changes. Worktables and other items can be put on casters with ceiling mounted cord reels. In the end though, most students will find themselves to have seen their best kitchen while in school until such time as they have the backing to build their own restaurant or are fortunate enough to be selected to open a new property.
The industry is focused on sustainability although no one is quite sure what that means. To many it is simply “being green” yet the lengths one goes to attain that goal determines the seriousness of the commitment. Fresh ingredients obtained locally is a big step, so a well-designed deboxing and washing station should be included for vegetable sanitation for local produce deliveries. The behind-the-scenes actions of energy and water conservation, composting and recycling are important lessons as well and should be designed into the facility. A direct plumbed used cooking oil disposal system should be considered, providing a better product for biodiesel recycling in a safer, cleaner manner.
One cannot ignore the importance of eating healthy food and making healthy choices in order to combat the problems facing the nation relative to the combined impact of obesity and hunger. Working for a better nation and world through the knowledge of food done well cannot be overemphasized. The culinary school environment should be one where students learn today’s methods and are inspired to create a better tomorrow.