Johnson & Wales University
Most chefs want to use the freshest ingredients. The father of farm-to-table cooking, French chef Alain Passard, is so obsessed with that concept that he created three organic gardens for his three-star restaurant in Paris, L’Arpège. While he has to bring his crops in by truck, the chefs at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami can simply step out the door and into the school’s on-campus “Edible Landscape.”
It truly is a garden of earthly delights — with 120 different species of edible plants. There are cocoa and carambola trees, pineapple plants and lemon grass, guava and avocadoes, as well as enough spice to season any dish, including allspice, bay leaf, annatto, known as the poor man’s saffron.
“You just go out and you harvest it,” says Bruce Ozga, the school’s dean of culinary education. “Obviously, we don’t have everything the students need, but what’s important is that they know that food doesn’t just show up in a box at the door.”
JWU offers its students a wide-range of courses and degree programs, including both associate and bachelor degrees in culinary arts, as well as baking and pastry arts. The school also provides students with the opportunity to learn about wine and spirits in its mixology lab, which include information on serving and cost control.
Obviously, we don’t have everything the students need [in the garden], but what’s important is that they know that food doesn’t just show up in a box at the door.
What sets JWU apart from other culinary schools, Ozga says, is its commitment to train students in both culinary and business skills.
“Anyone can open up a restaurant,” he says. “It takes more than just having the best barbecue.
“You need to know that it is a business and you need to make money at it. Service is very important. Most programs it’s all about the cooking and baking and pastries and so on. Service. We’re in the people business. We’re here to serve. A critical component of our classes is that they are learning to serve and learning about beverage. It’s not just about the back of the house. The back of the house is where you spend money. The front of the house is where you make money.”
Having said that, Ozga notes that he is seeing a growing entrepreneurial trend among his students. They want to be their own bosses and open restaurants, take their cooking on the road with a food truck, or launching a catering business. That is in part fueled by the foodie culture in South Florida, he says.
“Here the restaurant scene has just exploded,” he says. “I’d like to think that we’ve had something to do with that in the 25 years that we’ve been here.”
At the very least, JWU can lay claim to having taught some of the best chefs in the business, including local stalwarts: Michelle Bernstein, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Cena by Michy; Adrianne Calvo, the red-headed wunderkind of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar in the Kendall area; Pubbelly’s José Mendin; and Sugarcane’s Timon Balloo.
In addition to training the professional chef, last month JWU resumed its recreational cooking and wine classes. All courses are slated for select Saturdays. For $100, cooking enthusiasts can take a three-hour, hands-on course involving such topics as eating healthy, Valentine’s Day dinner featuring a four-course French meal, 30-minute meals, chocolate, and bread making. The wine series cost $125 and feature wine tasting and information about apt pairings. For those who want to go to the next level, JWU offers a six-hour wine certification course through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust for $250.
Miami Culinary Institute
Students at Miami Culinary Institute of Miami Dade College don’t have far to go for inspiration — and possible employment. They just have to take the elevator to the rooftop of their school, where the award-winning Tuyo restaurant is located.
In addition to its commanding views of the Miami skyline, including the iconic Freedom Tower and the old federal courthouse, Tuyo provides the opportunity for students to work in a professional kitchen. So does the first-floor Café at MCI. A total of 30 students work in both restaurants, which are owned by MCI, says the school’s department chairperson, Chef Collen Engle.
Now in its sixth year, the culinary program has the advantage of being part of Miami Dade College, a state-supported college and the largest institution of higher education in the country. That affords MCI the ability to charge less than other culinary schools in the area. In some instances, the cost is less than half that charged by competitors.
“We’re at half the cost of a Johnson & Wales or Art Institute,” Engle says of the $26,500 price for the two-year Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts from MCI. Johnson & Wales posts its annual tuition at $29,226. For those students lodging on campus and partaking of the student meal plan, expenses at JWU can top out at more than $43,000 a year.
“We have a very down-to-earth population that works hard for their money,” Engle says. “Very few of them want to borrow money and take loans to go to school. The Miami Dade College culture is coming from backgrounds where many of them are going to college for the first time. They know the value of money and they are realistic about where this career could take them.”
I do envision in the next 10 years, a lot of restaurants and kitchens will be run by women — and that’s a big change from 20 years ago.
The typical student plans to open a food business, be it in catering, operating a food truck or cooking nutritional meals, he says. “A lot also end up working in restaurants,” Engle says, adding that 85 percent of MCI graduates remain in the food industry.
MCI is seeing two new trends in enrollment. Just 20 years ago the male-to-female breakdown of students enrolled in culinary schools nationwide was 70 percent to 30 percent, Engle says. When MCI opened, the student population was equally split by gender. Now the trend shows 60 percent are women. Engle attributes this shift to the increased visibility of successful women chefs. “I do envision in the next 10 years, a lot of restaurants and kitchens will be run by women — and that’s a big change from 20 years ago,” he says.
The other trend involves an overall increase in enrollment. Nationally, college enrollment is down roughly 4 percent, but MCI is bucking that trend. “Our enrollment is up 5 percent,” Engle says. “What accounts for it is that it is still a very popular profession for people to explore.” Additionally, the job outlook is good. “Miami offers all kinds of opportunities,” he says. “Right now we’re using the stat of one person looking for a job in hospitality for every 10 jobs that are out there.”
Just don’t expect to start as a “Top Chef.” A lot of those are entry-level jobs, but they are in a variety of hospitality fields. “We’re talking about everywhere from hotels to cruise lines to restaurants,” Engle says. “They are more entry level. I look at it like a triangle. There’s a lot of jobs at the base. It gets more competitive as you go up.”
AU REVOIR — A CULINARY SCHOOL CLOSES:
Le Cordon Bleu
After a searing loss of more than $110 million over the past two years, Le Cordon Bleu is getting out of the kitchen. At least in the United States.
In December, parent company Career Education Corp. announced plans to close the Miramar campus, as well as the other 15 campuses nationwide, including one in Orlando. As of this month, the schools discontinued enrollment of new students and plan to cease operations in September 2017.
“New federal regulations make it difficult to project the future for career schools that have higher operating costs, such as culinary schools that require expensive commercial kitchens and ongoing food costs,” Career Education CEO and President Todd Nelson said in a prepared statement. “Despite our best efforts to find a new caretaker for these well-renowned culinary colleges, we could not reach an agreement that we believe was in the best interests of both our students and our stockholders.”
Le Cordon Bleu in the United States operates independently of the international enterprise, which was founded in 1895 in Paris and famously taught Julia Child the fine art of French cooking. According to the company website, “Le Cordon Bleu International continues to operate its international schools, including the flagship school in Paris, which will move to a new expanded campus located on the banks of the river Seine in 2016. Le Cordon Bleu schools and programs will continue education and training business as usual in Paris, London, Madrid, Istanbul, [Lebanon], Ottawa, Mexico, Peru, [Brazil], Costa Rica, Panama, Santiago Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and China.”
Career Education has been beset with financial woes in the past few years, including an agreement reached in 2013 to pay
$40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by students who alleged the company oversold the value of a Le Cordon Bleu education. Upon graduation, many of the students ended up in poor-paying entry-level jobs and were saddled with huge college loans.
Tuition costs at the Miramar campus, according to the 2014-15 catalog, range from $19,550 (for a 12-month diploma program) to $42,550 (for a 21-month associate in science degree). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the annual median pay for bakers was $23,600. Cooks earned a median of $21,210, and food preparation workers just $19,560.
The decision to close the U.S. schools came after unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a sale of the company. It remains unclear what will happen to the facilities once the school closes next year. According to the school’s website, the Miramar campus houses an impressive “13 kitchen classrooms for hands-on learning and demonstrations, 7 lecture rooms, a computer lab and library,” and offers courses in English and Spanish.
The Broward-based Le Cordon Bleu campus is touted as a Miami school that provides cooking classes for the amateur chef as well as culinary courses for the professional. Students there can obtain diplomas and associate in science degrees in the culinary arts, as well as pastry and baking. Its celebrity graduates include Alison Rivera, who appeared on Hell’s Kitchen, and Janine Booth, a Top Chef alumna who is also the owner and chef at Root & Bone in New York.
The pending closure comes as a surprise to many in South Florida’s culinary community, particularly those familiar with some of the quality graduates from the school.
“We’ve actually hired staff here previously from Le Cordon Bleu,” says Wes Bonner, resident chef for the Aprons Cooking School at the Publix in Plantation. “So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just another great culinary program. It’s unfortunate for whatever reason they had to shut their doors. But it is business and things happen.”
THE ENTREPRENEUR :
The Wok Star
If you think wok cooking is just for Chinese food, guess again. Hong Kong native Eleanor Hoh will change whatever preconceived ideas you may have about wok cooking — not only by varying the cuisine, but also by abolishing the need for recipes.
Hoh sees the wok as a way to revolutionize American cooking. In her hands the wok becomes a flash-frying pan that can sear tuna or even create a frittata, as well as a medley of vegetables. You can even make Mexican food in a wok, she says.
In addition to her new approach to wok cooking, Hoh launched a business that includes selling wok kits. Through a process of trial and error, Hoh has assembled a variety of tools to make perfect wok meals, including a cast-iron wok that weighs a mere three pounds and custom-designed potholders that attach directly to the wok handles, using magnets and Velcro. Hoh is in the process of looking for a strategic partner to help source and distribute her Wok Star kits to retail stores. For now, the kits can be purchased at her classes or through her website.
“My Wok Star project has the potential of being bigger than the George Foreman Grill,” she says, explaining, “His grill focuses on one style, versus a wok, which is so versatile. It can do so many things.”
Hoh learned to cook from her mother and has been teaching others since 1990. She introduced the Wok Star concept in 2009. Rather than simply presenting her students with a one-time, wok-cooked meal, Hoh believes in providing them with the tools to continue experimenting with their woks long after they’ve left the classroom.
The secret to a successful wok dish is high heat and cooking the vegetables separately from the seafood or meat, she says.
Woks also inspire people to break away from the rigidity of recipes and cook according to taste. “I use the analogy to music: jazz — with riffing and jamming — versus classical — which always follows a score sheet, i.e. a recipe,” she says. Instead of worrying about precise measurements, Hoh invites cooks to relax and let their eyes and taste buds be their guide.
Her classes tend to generate interest from executives and Type-A personalities. “Doctors, lawyers and judges are some of my clients,” she says, explaining that her cooking helps the busy career person create a healthy meal in 30 minutes or less. A class in early January included a personal trainer who worked with Ricky Martin and Robert Downey Jr., a star of Bravo TV’s Below Deck, a film coach, and the sales and marketing director of a family metal business.
Hoh uses two woks in her class — one for her to demonstrate and the other for one student at a time to follow along. The two wok teaching method enables her to keep close watch on the open flame, while ensuring everyone can participate as much or as little as they want. The best part is everyone participates in the eating.
THE HOTEL — GUEST SERVICES:
Biltmore Culinary Academy
First off, boiling live lobsters can prove to be far less problematic than that famous flying pot top scene in the movie Julie & Julia. That’s what Lourdes Sanchez discovered during a cooking class offered by the Biltmore Culinary Academy at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. “It was really weird,” Sanchez says, explaining that the whole process was eerily quiet. “Nothing at all.”
Learning that lobsters sometimes do go gentle into the good night was one of many lessons Sanchez has learned from the numerous cooking courses she has taken at the Biltmore. Sanchez, who owns Society Cleaners in Coral Gables, says she has been taking cooking classes at the hotel since it opened in 2009.
She’s a regular at the Biltmore, in part because she loves to cook — and eat — and also because she offers a bridal valet service and many of her clients get married at the landmark property.
Another class involved barbecue chicken, but with a twist. “We barbecued it with a beer can inside,” she says. “It was really cool, because when the beer starts boiling, it starts marinating the chicken inside. It’s really good.”
Students can also learn the intricacies of how to make French pastries from the hotel’s pastry chef. The courses run the gamut from hors d’oeuvres and appetizers to sushi-rolling and Peruvian tapas.
There are classes on how to eat right, and there are diet-busting dessert classes. There are even modern molecular gastronomy classes involving liquid nitrogen that flash-freezes food, leaving an icy fog in its wake.
Katherine Cardoso, who manages the culinary academy, believes the program is unique.
“I believe we are the only recreational cooking school in a hotel, and we have a kitchen dedicated totally for that,” Cardoso says. Both hotel guests and members of the community can partake of the classes, she says, adding that the majority of the students, such as Sanchez, live in South Florida.
The courses are completely hands-on, and the students get to eat what they make.
“It’s something very casual, where at the beginning we start as strangers,” Cardoso says, “and at the end we just eat as a family.”
THE SUPERMARKET — ONE-STOP SHOPPING:
Publix Aprons Cooking School
Even the names of the classes are mouth-watering: Couples Cooking: Steamin’ Hot, Food Lover’s Valentine Dinner, Citrus Explosion!
But the true beauty of the Aprons cooking classes at Publix is that if you like what you eat, you can simply go downstairs and buy the ingredients for your next meal. The store even supplies cooking gadgets and other housewares, such as knives, mixing bowls, spatulas and even a mechanized sea salt grinder with a built-in light so that you don’t accidentally over-salt your dishes.
“One of the main reason Publix wanted to do that was to promote their ingredients,” says sous-chef John Beckett. “So far, all the first-timers, they’ve always raved about coming back and they suggested that others come here, because this is a very low-key school. No one knows this school. No one knows that this place exists, unless they get an email.”
Tucked away in the far back corner of the store and accessible by elevator, the Plantation cooking school has the feel of a secret initiation. But once in the second floor kitchen, the setting is as familiar and as welcoming as a home kitchen.
You could learn how to correctly dice an onion, skin a salmon or bread fish so that the crust stays on when frying. You may even develop an appreciation for the work your significant other puts into daily meals.
Some classes offer a hands-on opportunity to roll up your sleeves and grab a rolling pin. Other classes invite you to sit back, sip some wine and watch the chefs as they perform their magic. Either way, at the end you get to enjoy a multicourse meal with top-of-the-line ingredients. The abundance and quality of the food offered can easily exceed the price of admission — and what one could purchase at a fancy restaurant.
“We want to make it attractive to our guests and we also want the people who shop in our stores to know how to utilize the products we sell,” says Wes Bonner, the resident chef who oversees the cooking school the Publix in Plantation.
“The nice thing is we have customers that drive from South Miami and we have customers that drive from just above Coral Springs that come to classes here in Plantation.”
A sampling of other culinary schools and classes
These are among the dozens of schools and cooking classes in South Florida:
San Ignacio College
The college offers associate and bachelor degrees in culinary arts, as well as hospitality management. The culinary school provides a base in French cooking, with an introduction to international cuisine from Latin America, Europe, Asia, North America, and Peru. Estimated cost: $20,000+ annually.
The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-3000
The Art Institute offers diplomas and associate in science degrees in the culinary arts, as well as baking and pastry. Students can also obtain a bachelor of science in culinary management. Tuition: AS in baking and pastry: $47,719; AS in Culinary Arts: $47,819; BS in Culinary Management: $93,329.
The Naked Bite by Amber Antonelli
Coconut Grove, Miami, 707-776-7035
Antonelli offers private and public cooking classes, in addition to catering and personal chef services, with a focus on the flavorful and healthy. Based in Coconut Grove, Miami, with dates and venues to be announced. “Our goal is to empower people to make better eating choices and to make the vegetables the best thing on their plate,” according to the company website,www.thenakedbite.com.
Coral Gables, 305-443-7335
This home décor boutique and cooking school, located at 101 Aragon Avenue, introduce home cooks to the pleasure of making tamales, Middle Eastern food from Beirut, and a taste of old San Juan. Most classes cost $85 per person. www.aragon101.com
Two Chefs Restaurant
South Miami, 305-663-2100
Learn to make anything from escargot to soufflé, Caesar salad to Steak Diane with grilled asparagus. This cooking adventure in an industrial kitchen on Saturdays and costs $85 per person.
More online at www.miamiherald.com
The 15th annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday. Among the highlights: Guy Fieri is hosting the Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the Surfcomber Hotel. Duff Goldman is throwing a Sweet 15 Dessert Party at the former Versace Mansion. And Ted Allen is charged with helping inaugurate the Taste Fort Lauderdale Series with aBloody Mary Brunch hosted by the cast of “Chopped” at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
South Florida Food 50: The 2016 class is full of chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality experts, beverage specialists and power couples who are raising our culinary prominence and making South Florida a better place to eat and drink.