Triumph Higher Education, which licenses the school’s name from the Escoffier Foundation, already has two brick-and-mortar professional cooking schools in Austin, Tex., and Boulder, Colo. It just launched its online curriculum, modeling it after the online degree programs such as those offered by the University of Phoenix. The course costs $5,000. While half its new enrollment comprises enthusiasts looking to learn the basics of cooking, the school’s core objective is to train the professional cooks that make up the rank and file of every restaurant kitchen.
At this point I should mention that I worked as a prep and line cook for several years in college. I had no formal training and I’m certainly no chef, but I make a decent vinaigrette, can debone a chicken, and have developed an unhealthy indifference toward open flame. I also carry the baggage accrued by anyone who has learned to cook in a restaurant.
Sure, your grandma can teach you to cook, but to learn how to cook professionally, there is no substitute for a hairy man in sweat-drenched chef whites bellowing in your ear, demanding to know how you could foul up a carrot brunoise.
I expressed my skepticism to Jeffrey Larson, Triumph’s director of admissions marketing, and Brian Sherrill, its vice president of technology, and they say they get that response a lot. Sherrill says cooking is such a hands-on profession that an entirely online curriculum seems counterintuitive.
Sherrill says no one is going to graduate from the school’s two-to-four-month program and open a restaurant. The idea is to teach the rudiments of cooking, along with a healthy dose of French culinary theory and kitchen science to students who want to embark on a restaurant career, he says.
Triumph expects its Escoffier graduates to develop the basic knowledge needed to land an entry-level position in a restaurant or caterer’s kitchen and go on to continue their education on the job.
“You’re not going to complete the class and become a sous-chef,” Sherrill says. “You’re going to learn knife skills, to learn your mother sauces, to learn the fundamentals.”
Okay, so graduating from this $5000 dollar program will teach you enough of the basics to get an entry level $7.50 an hour job at Applebee's.
And how will students be assessed and graded by the instructors so that Applebee's knows graduates from the Triumph Online Culinary School really know knife skills, how to make mother's sauces, etc.?
Why, by taking pictures and sending them in to the Triumph's teachers, of course!
The most obvious flaw in the school’s online system is that no instructor is eating the dishes these students create. No matter how good a meal looks, you’ve made an unacceptable dish if it tastes poorly. I share this criticism with Sherrill and Larson, expecting them to cringe in fear at my astute observations. I get the impression I’m not the first person to have raised this point.
You can divine a lot about how a dish will taste just by looking at it, Sherrill says. You can tell if a scallop has been seared properly by noting the level of caramelization on its exterior. You can see if a steak has been cooked properly by cutting it up and observing the redness of juices. You can tell if eggs have been scrambled properly by the size of their curds and the sheen of moisture on their surface.
This program so smacks of "How Do We Make Some More Money From An Online Component Because We Can't Raise Tuition At Our Brick And Mortar Schools Anymore."
I worked restaurants for a long, long time, albeit in the front of the house.
I am highly dubious that paying any culinary school $40,000 to get a degree that will eventually get you, at max, a $12 or $13 an hour job cooking in a restaurant makes any sense.
I am completely dubious that spending $5000 for an online culinary program makes any sense at all.
Unless you know, going in, that you're only doing it to learn the basics for yourself.
But if you think you're going to get a job out of this program, you should think again.
In my day, people started as dishwashers and moved onto the line where they learned the very same basics without paying any school $5000 for an online program.
I know times have changed and restaurants are looking more for trained chefs from programs rather than a newbie they're willing to train themselves.
But there are at least seven SUNY programs that you can attend to learn culinary skills that would serve you a lot better than this online program, and CUNY has at least two programs that will do the same.
Every school and every would-be edu entrepreneur thinks they can turn to the Internets and make a bundle with an online program.
I am skeptical of most of those, but I am really skeptical of this one.
Next week we'll take a look at the News Corporation''s online medical school program called "Operation!" and ask the question, "Would you go to a doctor trained online?"