Story and photo by Lindsey Chester.
Morrisville, NC- Even in this slow economy, the Triangle continues to attract new businesses. The region captured the attention of The Chef’s Academy, the Culinary Division of Harrison College, from Indianapolis, IN. The Academy is expanding , and their research pointed them to our area as a great place to open a new culinary arts school.The new Chef’s Academy, which offers a 2 year degree program in Culinary and Pastry Arts is under construction near 540 and Chapel Hill Rd in Morrisville. They are set to open in August with their first classes.
I met with Jayson Boyers the Regional President and Managing Director, who moved his family down here from Indianapolis last fall as construction got under way.
Why the Triangle?
Jayson told CaryCitizen that he analyzed twenty different markets (including San Diego and Denver) before selecting their new location. What they looked for:
- areas with high concentrations of PhD’s
- low cost of entry into the market
- overall size of the area
Apparently areas with high education tend to support a healthy restaurant scene, and low building costs helped get the land needed for the school.
He also mentioned that in a larger metropolitan area, the school might be lost, or encounter more competition. Here, they can become involved in the community and have a bigger presence.
A Serious Program
This school is not for part-timers looking to learn a kitchen trick or two (sorry Moms and Dads!).
To enroll, a student must be willing to commit to the program full-time. That means attending classes 4 days a week for at least 6 hours a day. The application process includes a two hour interview, current ACT or SAT scores (for recent high school grads) or another aptitude test, for folks transitioning from another career. The admissions also rely heavily on recommendations.
The school does not require prior cooking or restaurant experience. In fact, Jason pointed out that “past experience is not a predictor of success” in the program. Instead they seek “a passion for the industry”. He mentioned a former FedEx employee who went through their program in Indianapolis and is now an executive chef.
Once admitted, students are grouped into a class of 36, called a cohort, with whom they take all their classes. These groups become your “team”. The class schedule is divided into 5 shifts per day which begin as early as 6 am, and end as late as midnight.
Cutting It At The Academy
The school prides itself on “building skills from the bottom up” and teaches everything from knife skills to selecting quality ingredients. They put their knowledge into practice every day.
While at the school, students will cook for about half the day in one of three state of the art restaurant-style kitchens. They will also order the food, and receive it from the loading dock- just as restaurant chefs do. Besides cooking, students study nutrition, purchasing, and business skills. After all, to run a restaurant, you need to handle the books as well as the knives.
Of course graduates will work in restaurants, but the healthcare industry is another huge potential employer. Large scale hospitals and assisted living facilities need well-trained chefs to manage their daily operations as do corporations. Our area has a wealth of these potential employers.
The school is still hiring professional chefs who will teach the new students in an 18-1 ratio. And they are still accepting applications for attendance. Capacity for the school is about 400 students. They expect to reach that number in about 2-1/2 years.
Helping Out in the Community
We mentioned that The Chef’s Academy plans to become a big part of their community. For their official grand opening in October they plan to raise funds and awareness for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. A great fit for a business that focuses on food. Fighting hunger in the community in which they conduct business will be a big focus for the academy.
I think the Triangle food scene just got a lot more exciting!