Chef Ron Pickarski is President and Executive Chef/Consultant for Eco-Cuisine, Inc. and the first professional vegetarian chef to be certified as an Executive Chef by the American Culinary Federation. He is a Food Technologist and a member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) with a specialty in research and development of all-natural, low and reduced fat food products that are nutrient dense.
Chef Pickarski is the Founder/Director of the American Natural Foods Team, which competes at the International Culinary Olympics and won seven medals with plant-based foods between 1980 and 1996. He was the first chef in the history of that prestigious event to do so.
He has also made television appearances, produced cookbooks and a video, and written articles for national periodicals. He has been featured in Vegetarian Times, Art Culinaire, The National Culinary Review, USA Today Weekend, the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In 2001, he will begin teaching Classical Vegetarian Cuisine at the Cook Street School of Fine Cooking in Denver.
How did your career as a chef unfold? Where did it begin and why did you decide to pursue the profession?
My culinary career started when I was 12 years old. My parents opened a diner restaurant in Petoskey, Michigan where I started as a dishwasher and eventually worked my way onto the line cooking burgers, fries and plating lunch or dinner specials. At this time in my life, it was a job for which I didn’t have a passion. I did love art and spent much time painting with oil colors. I didn’t see cooking as an art form, but rather as a necessity to sustain life. In high school, my father asked me if I wanted to take over the restaurant and I said “no”, that I had absolutely no interest in cooking as a profession.
My culinary career actually began when I entered the seminary. The first day there, I jumped on the scale and weighed in at 200 pounds. I realized that I had to do something about it. I was a full time academic student at Our Lady of the Angels (Franciscan) Seminary in Quincy, IL (now Quincy University). I became immersed in different diets and lost 50 pounds in 3-1/2 months. During the second semester of my freshman year, I decided to become a Franciscan Brother and went to a part time academic student and began to learn a trade (sandle making and shoe repair) while still maintaining an interest in food. It was in the Summer of 1969 while home on summer vacation from my freshman year that I began taking cooking seriously. I would go to an early morning mass (church) and from there go my parents restaurant where I began baking pastries to sell in the restaurant. That led into some cooking. It was for a few hours before going to work at Pepsi Cola where I drove truck.
When I went back to the seminary for my sophomore year, the seminary staff expected me to work in the sandle shop, and I expected to work in the kitchen. The faculty honored my wish, and I worked part time in the kitchen cooking for 150 people while continuing my academic studies. It was there that I began to learn institutional cooking and working with mixes.
The following year, I was transferred to Chicago to begin my noviate (academic studies) and, while there, I was assigned to the kitchen to continue cooking. All students had to do service work. While in the kitchen at St. Paschals in Oakbook, IL, I was given extensive training in baking, cooking and meat cutting. I was also allowed to sign up for culinary school (Washburne Trade School), which was a two-year extensive program. That was my decision to pursue a profession as a culinary artist. I also realized that cooking is an art form (in terms of cooking, presentation and nutrition), and my visit to the culinary school radically affirmed it.
The following year, I began culinary school which lasted for two years full-time. This was my immersion into the professional world of Culinary Arts. Two years later, I graduated at the top of my class and went on to become the executive chef of St. Paschals cooking for 50 to 200 on a daily basis.
When and why did you decide to become a vegetarian chef? What are some of the special challenges?
In December 1975, I was certified as a meat cutter after two years of extensive training. I visited the meat market with my instructor to pick my beef, pork or poultry and bring it back to St. Paschals where I would break the meat down to specific cuts, cook to bones into stocks and demi-glaces, etc.
I decided to become a vegetarian due a health crisis that kept worsening. In my extensive studies of nutrition, I was fortunate to be in the audience of a lecture which outlined how meat was the primary cause of my health crisis. The next day I was vegetarian. That was February 1, 1976 (two months after being certified as a meat cutter). At that time I gave up only meat. The health crises reversed until I began consuming more dairy, which resurrected the crisis. That led to additional studies that eventually led me to give up Dairy and eggs in May of 1977. At that point I was a total vegetarian (vegan) which I still am today. My health was the primary motivating factor, even though Francis Moore Lappe’s book “Diet For A Small Planet” was fresh off the press.
The challenges were in learning how to work with Natural Foods (i.e. Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan, miso, different non-diary milks) without any training in how to handle or cook the foods. There was, when I became a vegetarian, no professional standard by which to cook natural foods. Second challenge was to translate classical cuisine into vegan (no dairy or egg) cuisine. I had to start from scratch learning how to work with natural foods (when I say natural, I am referring to those unique ingredients in the natural foods industry i.e. tofu, miso, sea vegetables etc.) and then learn how to translate them into classical/modern cuisine. It took many years of R&D to learn how to translate classical cuisine into vegan cuisine. While vegan is a niche market, if the chef can create superior vegan menu items, the chef will have addressed all categories of vegetarianism and will not have to modify the vegetarian menu.
You founded Eco-Cuisine, Inc. Please tell us about the business, including what you do, why you started it, and the demand for your services.
As a company, Eco-Cuisine was started in 1986 and was incorporated in 1991. The philosophy of Eco-Cuisine is that of eating in harmony with our environment. Humanity has a symbiotic relationship with our universe and that is expressed, to some degree, through our dietary choices. We should consume a diet that nurtures our bodies and the universe we live on. That diet should be primarily a plant-based diet. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot eat meat. Rather, meat should be consumed in moderation. Eco-Cuisine was founded with the intent of defining and promoting, in the professional culinary arena, an ecological diet with an intent to create biological and ecological homeostasis.
Promoting an ecological diet has many avenues of expression. One is in the form of educational seminars for culinary students, chefs and sometimes for the general public. Last year, that entailed presenting at the American Culinary Federation‘s National Convention and the American Dietetic Association. Eco-Cuisine develops the vegetarian menus in conjunction with hotels to cater conventions. My most recent event was the World Vegetarian Congress held in Toronto, Canada. On the consulting side, Eco-Cuisine works with properties that are struggling to survive. This is purely consulting where I will go into a property, access its strengths and weaknesses from many perspectives – it is primarily in natural foods restaurant-operations that their professional operational skills are lacking. My operations are run by professionals chefs; my focus is primarily on menu development because the operations are professionally run.
Eco-Cuisine has three cookbooks in publication with the latest being the “As You Like It Cookbook”. Ninety percent of the time when I am in the kitchen, I am testing recipes and writing them into my lab book. I generally use recipes from my books for conventions, consulting etc. with a few of the new ones put in to get consumer responses.
With the rise in demand for vegetarian and healthy cuisine my business is growing in the range of about 300% a year.
You’re also involved in food science. What can you tell us about that?
In 1985, I began to venture into another area of consulting that is a primary focus of ECI’s culinary endeavors. It is working as an R&D (Research & Development) chef. This is a quickly-evolving area in the modern culinary world in which chefs work with food scientists to create formulas for retail products. It is the fusion of culinary techniques (to create a great tasting recipe), food science/chemistry (to give the food shelf life via controlling water activity, Ph etc.) and designing the product to physically work on mass production equipment. It is an exact science unlike cooking in a commercial kitchen where, if a dish isn’t right, you may loose 50 portions of food. If it isn’t exact in the launching of a product, the packaging could cost $100,000+ and the loss of ingredients be even more. If anything is off from the formula, to processing, to packaging, the entire product is a loss. I love the discipline and challenge of creating products for the food service and retail food industry.
You were the first professional vegetarian chef to be certified as an Executive Chef by the American Culinary Federation. Did your vegetarian style make it more difficult to attain that certification? Is it more common now?
It didn’t make it any more difficult for me to be certified. ACF has its standards for certification, and I had to fulfill all of those requirements. The difficulty arises with those vegetarians who don’t want to work with meat. They let their ethical values drive their culinary career decisions. I was certified as a meat cutter before becoming a vegetarian. Even as a vegetarian, I had to work with meats even going to the point of slaughtering cattle, bleeding and dressing them. As the VP of R&D for a natural foods technology company, I worked in Jimmy Deans slaughter house where 2,000 pigs a day were slaughtered. I saw the blood flowing into holding containers to be used for make-up. I developed a healthy sausage with 10% fat and dietary fiber. If people are going to consume meats, I want them to consume healthy meats.
I share this with you because it is important to remain true to one’s values but not let them cloud one’s culinary career. For me, personally and professionally, learning to cook classical cuisine with meat and becoming a meat cutter has actually enhanced my culinary ability to become a classical plant-based vegetarian chef.
The special challenges of attempting to become a vegetarian Certified Executive Chef lies in working with meat. Many vegetarian culinary students don’t like to work with meat, which will inhibit their culinary development if not end it. All schools require at least the minimal skills of meat cutting. While at Northern Albert Institute of Technology as a guest chef, their vegetarian students had to spend minimal time in meat cutting. They received special treatment, but they had to work with the meat. Baltimore International College had (may still have) a special program for vegetarian culinary students. I actually use my meat skills to lure people into vegetarianism. My suggestion is to look at learning how to cook with meat to empower your to be a better vegetarian culinarian, if you are vegetarian.
What are some other challenges to becoming or being a vegetarian chef?
The real challenge to becoming a vegetarian chef (certification aside) from a purely culinary approach is that of learning how to cook with the plant based proteins and unique ingredients. What is most challenging for the professional chef is that of addressing the center of the plate (protein). Most chefs serve an array of side vegetables, Pasta Primevera, stir fries etc. They are skirting the center of the plate, and while the food is generally boring from a creative point of view, I do enjoy it if great technique is used along with a little creativity. A pocket can be cut into tempeh and stuffed with a duxelle, braised/sauteed/grilled, sliced, fanned and served with a supreme sauce and a bouquetiere of vegetables. In consulting with restaurant establishments in menu development, much of the effort is centered on center of the plate proteins in mirroring the entrees on their existing menu.
One example is, while working as the executive chef of a fine dining restaurant, I created the signature menu item (a venison fillet with a wild game sauce, fresh garlic-sage whipped potatoes and braised field greens). Every item except the meat was totally plant-based. I replaced the meat with a seitan fillet. Think about it. You are vegetarian and you enter the restaurant, are presented with a menu and the signature dish for the restaurant is available as plant-based vegetarian. The venison tender (6 oz.portion) cost $18.00 per pound and the vegetarian received an 8 oz. portion of Seitan (at $0.90 per pound) at the same price. My point is that not only was the vegetarian signature item very successful, but it was also very profitable.
What do you consider your greatest career accomplishments?
When I was going to culinary school, I was asked by my instructors to visit the pastry chef’s display of his International Gold Medal winning pastry work in the hotel lobby. When I saw the work, my heart was throbbing with the excitement of someday competing in such a prestigious competition. As an apprentice, I said to myself “someday I am going to compete in the Culinary Olympics”. When I became a vegetarian in 1976, I said to myself “now I have a reason to go”. I was a Franciscan Friar (monk) as well as a professionally-trained chef. At that time, vegetarianism was beans and rice. I had a mission to raise vegetarianism to the ranks of haute cuisine, and there was no better place to make the statement than the International Culinary Olympics. In my first professional competition, the judges didn’t know how to judge my presentation because there was no standard, so they didn’t judge it.
I put a team together and competed in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996, winning a total of seven medals, including a gold. What was unique about the competition is that from 1980 to 1992 (and a bronze in 1996) all dishes were all judged with the meat dishes, not as vegetarian cuisine. In the competition’s centennial year of 1996, it offered the first ever vegetarian category. The judges use a point system in which everyone has to achieve a certain point level to win a medal. Everyone could conceivably win a medal or no medal. In the vegetarian category, only one medal was awarded. It was a gold with a 39.9 out of a possible 40 points, and is was awarded to my team. That is probably the greatest achievement of my life in that it caused me to take my vegetarian cuisine to this level, while creating a radical culinary transformation in the professional culinary arena. In the 2000 International Culinary Olympics (I didn’t compete) it was made mandatory for the first time that all national culinary teams have to create a vegetarian program.
My spirit looks at my life with three phases. One was the activist (Culinary Olympics), second is the business – what I am immersed in now, and finally is working full-time in education in my golden years. While the Olympics was an accomplishment of the past, I still have even more challenging accomplishments to achieve. My Olympic success must carry over into the business world of culinary arts and finally into the educational sector of the culinary world for it to have firmly established itself as a means of transforming America’s diet to a healthier form.
What exactly do chefs do?
That is a loaded question. Their first and primary responsibility is to be a leader (chief) in the kitchen. The chef has to know how to inspire his culinary team to push their edges. He does that in two ways. One is by his example and the second is by creating an environment that, while stressful, is organized in a manner that allows the team to be productive in the least stressful manner.
They need to have great human relations skills, be great communicators, educators. They must have a comprehensive understanding of all the culinary skills (sauceir, meats, pastry etc.), sanitation and menu development. They have to master the computer, learn how to control food and labor cost. An executive chef has to have mastered all the above skills and be on top of culinary trends to effectively market his establishments cuisine to its target market.
What are the tools of the trade you use most? What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?
The tool that I use most in my kitchen is my knifes. Keep them sharp and know how to properly handle them and the knifes specific function (French, boning, breaker and fillet knifes). The second is my cookware. 95% percent of my cookware is Kuhn Rikon out of Switzerland. It is versatile in that a pressure cooker can also be used as a saute pan. Some of the cookware can be used to serve the food in. Finally, my Kitchen Aid Mixer, Cuisenart Food Processor (VCM in professional food service kitchen) and Blender are the other heavily used pieces of equipment that I use. But they all inevitably start with my processing the food item with my knives. I have a few gadgets, and the one I enjoy the most is an electrical piece of equipment similar to a coffee grinder. It is made in France by Vargo, Inc. which, unlike the coffee grinder, has a detachable top. The top has razor sharp blades that run close to the base. It can mince a half cup of parsley in 15 seconds.
Regarding kitchen equipment, I generally focus on equipment that is multifunctional (i.e. the Kitchen Aid Mixer has the vegetable processing, grinding and stuffing attachments). Either the equipment is multifunctional or it has to carry its weight in a single purpose function in order to earn its place in my kitchen.
What are some of the skills that help all chefs succeed?
The most important skill for any chef to succeed is the virtue of humility. By that I mean that he or she realize that no matter how accomplished they are, they don’t know it all. There is something for them to learn from their fellow chefs and their culinary staff. Keep an open mind, be receptive to new ideas.
Second most important factor is that they keep cultivating their passion for their cuisine. That is what drives them to perfection, to creating the perfect cuisine in the perfect environment. That passion not only inspires them to be their best. It is contagious and carries over into the chef’s team keeping them at peak performance. The chef is only as good as his team, and his team is only as good as their chef. The chef sets the culinary standard. Having great culinary skills is a given but if there isn’t a burning passion for the arts, the skills erode into substandard performance.
The Chef has to take care of his culinary team. While working as a guest chef at a culinary school, an apprentice made the point that his chef was holding back on a pay raise he deserved. The chef was trying to protect his labor cost at the expense of disgruntling his team. While the chef should be his team’s best friend in the kitchen, he or she could become their team’s worst enemy. What was my advice to the student? Keep performing at 110% and if the raise doesn’t come, find another job that will appropriately compensate him.
How important are certifications, like Certified Executive Chef (CEC), in the culinary profession?
In America, certification doesn’t mean that much because the ACF hasn’t effectively marketed to the industry. As an executive chef applying for a job, I have never been asked if I was certified; I was asked if I could do the job. My experience and educational background were reviewed. Some kitchens required that I have a certification in sanitation. It may eventually become important if the ACF begins to properly market it.
My suggestion is to go for certification as a means to improve your professional skill level. Don’t expect it to land you a job even though the educational experience of doing it will enhance your ability to land a job. Above all, don’t hide behind certifications and diplomas. All that really matters is how well you can perform in the kitchen. In my 38 years of working in kitchens, I have come across many culinarians with diplomas/certificates etc. who could not cook well and many who didn’t have any diplomas or certificates and were amazing culinarians.
Canada has a certification program and getting hired into a professional kitchen is predicated on having a culinary certification at the level the culinarian is entering into the kitchen.
What are some common myths about chefs?
Probably the greatest myth about chefs is that they are tyrants. That was true in the old days (back in the 50s and 60s). Some chefs are still tyrants. By today’s standards, chefs must be leaders to inspire their culinary team. Chefs used to be considered domestic labor (i.e. like garbage collectors) until the Federal government changed our status to tradesmen. Even so, in academia, where I studied to become a vocational teacher, the academic professors, in general, looked at vocational (culinary) as second rate studies. I think that most people have the misconception that chefs only cook and direct their culinary team. Today, chefs have to be business managers (See what do chefs do?) and have a diverse array of skills to succeed in the kitchen.
How is the job market right now for culinary professionals? How do you think it will be in the next five years? 10 years?
The job market for culinary professionals is very tight. If you are good at what you do in the kitchen, there is a job for you. The job market will continue to grow in almost every segment of our industry over the next 5-10 years. The only exception is that when there is a recession, fine dining is generally the first segment to take the financial hit. Casual and upscale casual dining will hold its own during the rough times. There may be a labor shift within our industry, but there will be continued short and long term growth in the food service industry. People have to eat and everyone enjoys eating out within their means.
Is there a sizable job market for vegetarian chefs, meaning for those who simply do not want to prepare meat?
There isn’t a sizable job market for vegetarian chefs. That market is probably 10-20 years into the future. For those who don’t want to prepare meat, there are jobs where they could avoid working with meat. But they must be able to work in a kitchen that does cook meat because that is reality. The only vegetarian kitchens are natural foods kitchens. There is a rising demand for vegetarian cuisine on restaurant menus from casual to upscale dining. My point is that regardless of your dietary preference, learn to cook vegetarian cuisine (center of the plate etc.) because the market is making a quantum shift in that direction.
Upscale restaurants are serving vegetarian cuisine because it is becoming fashionable. In University food services, as much as 25% of the student body are vegetarian with additional students being flexitarian (they are health conscious people who are not vegetarian but like to eat vegetarian as part of a healthy diet). That is a large segment of our market.
What kind of jobs can graduating culinary students expect to get?
The type of jobs available to graduating culinary students is predicated on their skill level and previous experience. If the student has previous experience and has developed a command over his or her culinary skills, the student should be able to work as an assistant in any department of the kitchen (saucier, line cook, bakery, breakfast cook etc.). My approach, and the one that I obviously endorse for graduating students, is to not look at entry level wage as the determining factor. I would rather focus on the job experience. Find a restaurant or chef that sets your culinary passion on fire and go for the job. Every few years keep moving to learn from different chefs and develop your own culinary style. In the beginning the experience is more important. The pay will follow. The more diverse your skill level, the more valuable you are to your chef. That will eventually lead to a Sous Chef position which could ultimately lead to an executive chef position.
What are the best ways to find a good culinary job?
First, work through your school’s placement program. Every culinary school should have a placement program for its graduates. Being a member of the ACF can also help. When moving to a new city, you can work through ACF to find a job. The Internet is another way of looking for a job. You can surf the cities that you would like to work in for a job via the local newspaper on line.
How much are chefs generally paid directly out of culinary school? How about those at the top of the profession?
Again, depending on the region of the US, the establishment (casual versus fine dining and the skill level of the graduate, the pay can range from $20,000 to $30,000. In Boulder, at the Cheese Cake Factory, dishwashers were earning $10 an hour ($19,200 a year) without any culinary experience.
Chefs at the top of their profession can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a year depending on the size of the property and the degree of skill required for the job.
How important are professional affiliations with organizations, like the American Culinary Federation, to up and coming chefs? What are some of the biggest? Is there an organization for vegetarian chefs?
Professional affiliations are important in that they allow the chefs to network (share their skills, network for new jobs, and look for qualified personnel). Some of the biggest organizations are the ACF and Research Chefs Association (RCA). I am also a member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) which is a great resource for me in food science advanced training, working with production facilities etc.
What are your degrees and where did you get them? What did you like and dislike about your culinary education?
I graduated from Washburne Culinary School in Chicago in 1973. In 1974, I was certified in Sanitation and Supervisory Development from the University of Michigan. In December 1975, I received my certification as a meat cutter in Chicago. In 1983, I became Certified Executive Chef with the ACF and became the first vegetarian to do so. In 1983, I was certified as Certified Food Service Executive (CFE) with the International Food Service Executives Association. In 1983-4, I completed my studies at Florida International University as a culinary educator. In 1985, I passed my state board and received my Florida Certification as a professional Culinary Educator.
I don’t think there was anything that I disliked about my culinary education. What I liked about it was the combination of academia and on the job experience in the field. I wasn’t learning in a glass bubble. The students at Washburne had to go to school eight hours a day and then take a part time job in the field. The school helped place us. It was a great balance that I had throughout my entire career.
What I thought was interesting was how the two-year intensive in culinary school was considered equal to 20 years of on-the-job experience. What I learned then was but the tip of the iceberg of what I know now. What has helped me develop my culinary skills to the level that they are is my constantly taking jobs that pushed my envelope. They were just beyond where I was with my skill level which caused me to have to continually learn. Even to this day, I have never been in a comfort zone with my culinary endeavors. My point is that your culinary education should never stop. Culinary school is the starting point. I don’t think I will ever stop learning.
For those who have the talent already, should they go to culinary school and why?
Absolutely, because a good culinary school will help you develop and refine your raw talent. Going to a culinary school with several chef instructors will give you their unique talents coupled with the schools lesson plans, industrial networking etc.
What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the culinary arts?
First is that you have a burning passion for the culinary arts. If that isn’t present, you will not be successful. Second is that you realize that the job is high pressure, high performance and very stressful. If you can’t handle stress, don’t even think about it. You have to have the passion and the stamina. I have seen many culinary students crack under the pressure of performing. Culinary art is an art form unlike many others; it gives immediate gratification in seeing consumer satisfaction, but it has a price.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a culinary school?
Look to the schools academic structure. Does it teach a solid classical (French Italian)-modern cuisine?
Look at the culinary educators. What is their culinary background? If they went into teaching shortly after graduating from culinary school (some do), they don’t have much field experience. Not good. They should have at least 7-10 years of field experience and hopefully be moonlighting in the industry to keep their experience current.
Are the instructors certified culinary educators by their state boards requirements? Try to connect with students in the program and possibly some graduates to see if they are satisfied with the program.
Listen to your intuition. It may be a good school, but it may not be right for you. There were many times when everything seemed to say I should say yes, and my intuition was saying no. When I didn’t listen to it, I paid the price.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the five most respected and prestigious culinary schools in the world that really make a difference to students who graduate from these schools?
In America the most prestigious on a global level are:
- Culinary Institute of America
- Johnson & Wales (strong in business and culinary)
- Le Cordon Bleu in France is a very presetigeous school and I would deem in number three.
I would defer the remaining two to the international community but must acknowledge that I am not current with which schools the remaining ones would be.
Are there any schools or culinary programs that specialize in teaching the art of vegetarian cuisine?
Not professionally. Vegetarian, natural and healthy cuisine are working their way into the culinary schools, but there are no schools teaching it exclusively.
I have had so many requests from culinary students wanting to learn Classical-modern Vegetarian Cuisine that I aligned myself with Cook Street School of Fine Cooking in Denver to teach one week intensives to both seasoned chefs and culinary students. It will be a combination of lectures hands on, all day for five full days.
What are some trends that you see in the field of culinary arts that might help prospective students?
Vegetarian cuisine is a trend that will become entrenched in the field of culinary arts. With American spending 25% of it’s GNP on health care and obesity and diabetes at epidemic proportions, America is waking to the fact that it must transform its diet. The ADA has a position paper affirming the vegetarian diet. Flexitarians are leaning into the vegetarian diet for health reasons. Baby boomers are becoming more health conscious.
I also believe that Classical Cuisine will develop modern interpretations that are lighter and healthier. That is what I have been working on for many years in both the vegetarian and non vegetarian realm. When Chef Bocus resurrected “Nouvelle” cuisine back in the 1970s, that is what he was doing with French Cuisine. Nouvelle cuisine isn’t new, it was simply resurrected and eventually abandoned by Chef Bocus. That will resurrect, and with it the modern interpretations of the heavier less healthy dishes into a lighter cuisine.
How niche is vegetarian cuisine? Do you see it as having the potential to become a mainstream choice in the culinary field?
Most definitely. Not only will it continue to increase in market share as Americans become health conscious, the ever increasing cost of meat will lead more people to choose it. The meat safety issue is another factor. In Europe with the mad cow disease, vegetarian meat analogues sales are rapidly increasing. Health, economics, food safety etc. have already given vegetarianism a solid place in America’s diet. A National Restaurant Association survey in the 1990s revealed that 20% of the people dining out wanted a vegetarian item on the restaurant’s menu but only 5% of those surveyed were vegetarian.
How has advancing technology affected the culinary profession?
Earlier, I had shared about the RCA. I am coming back to that in that the future of the food service industry is going to take some radical shifts in the way food is prepared. A form of cooking called Sous Vide, developed about 20 years ago in France has begun the transformation of the way we cook. It is a chef driven food technology in which the food is classically prepared, packaged and quick chilled to give it up to 180 days in refrigeration.
Food technology via the research chef will begin producing food on an industrial level for food service operations. The food will be chef driven with the chefs having a solid background in industrial food production. With the shortage of qualified culinarians, escalating labor cost, quality control issues and the high cost of square footage (rental or to buy) it is becoming imperative that the food service industry has to respond with some resolve. This isn’t to say that the classical culinary education will become obsolete. Far be it from the truth. The culinary education will become more sophisticated with the chefs having to learn elementary food science. As for the classical culinary skills, they will be needed in the industrial production of the food and in finishing it off by the chef serving it.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed as a chef?
If you are willing to dream, be willing to pay the price to live your dream. A professional culinary career is very rewarding, gratifying and challenging. It is changing so rapidly that there is no room for complacency. It is a roller coaster of highs and lows. But all that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is your truth, mission and passion in life to practice the culinary arts. If that isn’t your reward then nothing else matters. Keep that passion burning.