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Grant, to be quite candid with you, I have yet to be bowled over by a chef whose preponderance of culinary learning has come from having gone through the Culinary Institute of America. In your case, how would you rank it in terms of the way you cook next to, first, growing up around restaurants, and, second, working for accomplished chefs? One reason I ask is that in the course of a lengthy, candid conversation with a French pastry chef of a fancy New York restaurant, he felt that the best chefs were formed through their apprenticeships. Also, what do you think of the CIA?

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Robert:

The CIA was a necessary step for me in achieving my culinary goals. I was 18 at the time of entry and had no mentoring by an established chef. The school did many things for me, but probably the least was teach me to cook. For me it was the level of exposure it produced that inspired me. My objective was to submerse myself in food, media, cookbooks, demos, conversations with other students and the classes themselves. Through all of these mediums the school exposes the students to how wide the profession is. All of the different facets are revealed and the student has a broader knowledge of the craft, abling him/her to make the desicion which path to take. For me it was the road to fine dinning. I used the school's resources to research the restaurants that were making an impact of the culinary world at the time. This was in 94, so Trotter was hot, as well as Gray Kunz at Lespinasse, Patina was doing well in La, and at the tail end of the year Thomas was making waves in Napa. Of course the school is very European driven so my awarness of the 3 star chef's of France became clear. This exposure ignited the passion for food in me, without it I may have been building houses right now. You reap what you sow.

Of course we learned how to cook at school as well. The foundamentals were important in building a strong sockel for our careers. Although I can say I don't make veal stock, or butcher fish, among other things, like I was taught at school, it was my first experience doing so, and in turn became a good foundation in which to build.

It seems to be a universal opinion that the most beneficial parts of growth for a young cook are the early years in a live kitchen. My time spent at the French Laundry is where I learned to cook. Thomas followed French tradition but at the same time challenged it, improving, refining and personalizing the techniques to suit his style and cuisine. It was here I gained confidence as a cook and became intimate with ingredients. Another thing that is important to understand about working with great chefs vs schooling is the relationship with the chef and how that effects learning. Most cooks that work with a chef emmulate them completely, knowing that the chef wants the cooks to be extentions of themselves. The focus is intense and the drive to impress is a powerful learning tool. At school you go from class to class and never make a strong connection to a leader that will mentor you in this way.

I feel schools should provide a stronger focus and more specialized training for the different facets of the business. A person that aspires to be 4 star chef should be exposed to a differnt program than one hoping to become a corporate chef of a large company, or a private chef and so on.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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