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Features

Why top culinary schools are turning their focus to the Indian market

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Vibhuti Garg, 27, is one of Ghaziabad’s sought after desserts chefs. Monte Nero, her run-from-home catering business, delivers the likes of macaroons, mini éclairs, cookies and frozen soufflés. Two years ago, Garg decided to follow her dream and enrol for a diploma in patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu London, after which she returned to Ghaziabad to set up her pastry business. Her father set up a new professional kitchen for her at home and business has been growing through word of mouth.

In Kochi, French Toast was started seven years ago by Ayaz Salim who worked in advertising in the Middle East before returning home. The bakery is known for its use of high quality ingredients and has grown to three outlets since. Executive chef Shruti Nayar, a lawyer who worked in advertising, went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to pursue a diploma in pastry. She came back to Kochi where French Toast had already started a year earlier. Nayar regularly gets approached by youngsters who want to study cooking abroad. “Many of them have done courses abroad and come back to open similar ventures here. This is good because only if we have better talent entering the food industry, will we have better products at lesser prices eventually,” says Salim.

Cooking in a Foreign School
Being a chef is a sought after career option today and the acquisition of cooking certificates and diplomas from reputed foreign institutions is perhaps the new Ivy League equivalent. While many are going abroad to study cooking, a spin-off of this trend is how top culinary and hospitality management schools from the world over are increasingly focusing on the Indian market to recruit students.

Le Cordon Bleu, with programmes in the culinary arts, hospitality management and gastronomy and short term certificate courses, has been aggressively hosting road shows not just in the metros but also in smaller towns. LCB Paris remains coveted for its diplomas in gastronomy and pastry, accepting only 150 students internationally each trimester, but even in this hallowed campus the number of Indians getting in has been steadily rising. As many as 25 students were reported in 2015. In partnership with GD Goenka University, Les Roches, the Swiss school of hospitality management, has been looking Indiawards with student and media engagements. Almost 10% of its students at the Swiss campus are from India, says Dr Stuart Jauncey, MD Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, who adds that students from India are drawn by the focus on entrepreneurship and experiential learning.

Chef-1

Meanwhile, Vatel, an international business and hospitality school from France, is doing well in India with a tie up with Ansal University. More specifically dedicated culinary schools such as Alma, based in Parma, Italy, have also tried to find a foothold in the country through tie ups with private institutions.

“In the last two-three years, because of the MasterChef cuture, social media and interest in restaurants, there is a big change in the level of preparedness in students. They are more aware of modern cooking techniques,” says Priyanandan Reddy, CEO of Bengaluru-based AIMS Institutes (that has a hospitality management school with a culinary arts diploma). Starting their own restaurants, cafes or catering businesses is what most of these millennials are aspiring to do, he adds.

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Entreprenuership aside, it is the booming standalone segment that is drawing wannabe chefs from many of these schools. While most Indian hotel companies continue to have affiliations with older established hospitality schools in the country, it’s an open secret how affluent millennials, drawn by the glamour of being head chefs as soon as they pass out, don’t want to go through the rigorous grind of jobs in hotel kitchens, where it may take up to two decades to rise to the top. “At a standalone, you can have 2-3 years of experience and be the head chef,” points out a hotel chef anonymously.

Talent Crunch
Despite the growing number of people who want to take up cooking as a career, restaurants both in hotels and standalones continue to face a talent crunch. According to a recent study and as reported by the Economic Times, India is expected to have a talent surplus of 245 million workers by 2030. But will this surge leave the restaurant industry out? Apparently, to find talent that can withstand the pressure of working in a restaurant is tough. Many people who stray into a cooking career thinking of it as glamorous tend to give up after a few months. That aside, the talent crunch also comes because while acquiring a foreign diploma may be possible for a few, many middle-class Indians cannot afford it.

Culinary education within India itself leaves much to be desired. “In India, there are fewer culinary schools. Our schools are lagging behind in terms of equipment, infrastructure and faculty. There is an urgent need to develop world-class schools with global chefs as trainers,” says Dr Suborno Bose, one of the hospitality educators in the country who has helmed International Institute of Hotel Management across India since the mid-1990s. While the US has about 580 accredited cooking schools that churn out more than 30,000 graduates annually, India barely has sixseven accredited schools devoted to cooking, says Bose.

Chef Manu Chandra who studied at the CIA’s New York campus in the early 2000s, says that culinary schools are not just about cooking. Instead, the competitive environment, exposure to multiculturalism and to top professionals is important because chefs these days are managers too. “India has a few challenges by way of infrastructure and the talent that teaches. You need to hire from the industry and pay them well,” Chandra points out.

India’s growing food culture can only mature when we have more of these chefs emerging from top cooking schools. This is one rare exception where too many cooks will not spoil the broth.

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