From college dining to corporate cafes, foodservice workers are hard to come by these days. There’s a universal shortage of line cooks, sous chefs and managers, and restaurants are vying with noncommercial operators to fill jobs.
Given the tough environment, culinary schools are gearing up to help.
“Coming out of the pandemic, so many organizations are in need of employees,” says Kirk Bachmann, campus president and head of product development for the Boulder, Colo., campus of the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. “The industry is reaching out to us for help, and we are trying to assist our employer friends by developing customized training courses based on their needs.”
Escoffier also has a campus in Austin, Texas, but about 90% of the school’s 8,000 students are enrolled in online classes or what Bachmann calls “interactive distance learning.” Remote studies range from a curriculum of foundational courses that leads to a diploma or degree to individual courses in sauces, meat cookery, bread baking and the like.
The newest curriculum focuses on plant-based cuisine; classes can be taken separately or as a program of sequenced courses, with the goal of attaining a diploma or associate degree in that area of expertise. Escoffier introduced this program for both new students and seasoned chefs to meet the growing demand for plant-based menus and sustainable cooking practices.
“We want to be a solution for the industry,” says Bachmann.
The curriculum includes foundational courses in sustainable sourcing, grilling, sauteing, braising, salad creation and seasoning. “The techniques are the same whether you’re applying them to vegetables, fruits and legumes or animal proteins,” says Bachmann. Allergens and food safety are also part of the coursework.
Students who pursue a diploma or degree then go on to learn how to put the techniques together into savory and sweet menu items. Among the more advanced classes are those in sauces, stocks, global dishes, menu design, purchasing, wellness and vegan pastry and desserts. Externships complete the coursework.
Online but hands on
Remote students have the chance to develop the same skills as students on campus, as the classes are very interactive, says Bachmann. Assignments are a three-step process: reading, discussion groups and experiential kitchen work. All the techniques are filmed on videos with professional chefs doing the demos and teaching. Students follow along, then take photos of their work and get video feedback from the instructor.
Rouxbe, a completely digital culinary school, is also ramping up its online classes to help fill the industry’s talent gap, and a plant-based version of its professional cook’s certification is one of the newer program components as well.
“We teach culinary fundamentals through a plant-based lens,” says Ken Rubin, Rouxbe’s chief culinary officer. While some students will translate the learnings to a job in a restaurant or foodservice operation, most take the classes to be self-empowered and perhaps start a plant-based food cart or catering company, he says.
Students are very self-motivated, Rubin says, and teachers act more as side-by-side guides or facilitators. All courses are certified through the American Culinary Federation.
Rouxbe has a number of industry partners, and those foodservice operations and hospitality companies often pay for employees to brush up on skills or learn new ones through some of the shorter programs.
In June, the school began offering a 10-hour Kitchen Quickstart training course at no cost to help restaurant owners and managers bring new and returning workers back into the kitchen.
“We developed Kitchen QuickStart as an affordable way for restaurants to get their staff trained efficiently as they head back to work, and quickly realized the need for the program was greater than even we anticipated,” say Scott Samuel, vice president of culinary at Rouxbe. “Providing this course at no charge is a small way of giving back to an industry that has suffered this year.”
The course covers 14 key lessons that range from using a chef’s knife and roasting vegetables, to vinaigrette basics and poultry fundamentals. There are over 50 instructional videos, with knowledge check quizzes after each section.
Expanding into matchmaking
Escoffier is developing courses to meet the labor challenge, and other standalone, short-term training courses are in the works, says Bachmann. “Education is a two-way street, and we have to meet potential students where they are.”
Just this week, the school launched its ramped-up Escoffier Connect Platform—a real-time talent matching tool designed to connect employer partners with 12,000 students and alumni. The new online tool can match a candidate’s level of training and credentials with operators seeking to hire skilled staff.
“Now more than ever, our employer partners are looking to us to help them find qualified candidates and not just for a short-term fix,” said Patricia Souza, Escoffier’s VP of student and career services. “Our partners know they’re getting professionally trained culinary candidates who can hit the ground running and are invested in career growth and development at their establishments.”