Chefs are Going Back to School

08 March, 2021
Chef at school

Photo by: Francesco Fioravanti

With similar purpose, The Gordon Ramsay Academy - Ramsay’s first-ever attempt to run a culinary school, slated to open next autumn - will also support people looking to get into the hospitality industry and offer an opportunity to the next generation of British chefs.

According to Niko Romito, whose Accademia is set to open in 2022, being a chef has never held such a tremendous responsibility as today. "Food is a vehicle to educate people to eat better and to respect the environment; to make them aware of their history, their conscience, and their rights,” he says. "There are many issues related to food right now, and I think it is essential to be aware of the great power of food when thinking of entering the food industry."

Romito believes today’s chefs must support local producers, give importance to forgotten products, and save biodiversity. He plans to address all these issues on his campus in Abruzzo, with an educational program run in partnership with UNISG - The Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences. "I want to teach my students the fundamentals of Italian cuisine, but mostly to find a personal way to express themselves through food, rather than being influenced by current trends or external factors,” he explains. 

The Accademia Niko Romito — which the chef refers to as "the school I would have liked to attend when I first started my journey as a young chef" —is more a restaurant-laboratory run by students and graduates under the supervision of a head chef working closely with the mother-kitchen of restaurant Reale

 

Students Niko Romito Academy

Accademia Niko Romito Students / Photo: Francesco Fioravanti

The school program lasts one year (with one month of theory, five months of practical lessons in laboratories, and another six months of internship in one of the chef's restaurants) and aims to closely follow Romito's principles, as he puts it: "respect for the ingredients, simplicity, balance, lightness, food as an expression of a territory and of the cook's identity”. 

Chef Jefferson Rueda, from the celebrated A Casa do Porco - the only Brazilian restaurant on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list - considers the pandemic as an excuse to revisit an old project of creating a training centre for young professionals. Located in São João do Rio Pardo, in São Paulo's interior, the school he dreamed of and conceived is located on a farm where the chef grows most of the ingredients he uses in his restaurant, from green leaves and tubers, to fruits and unconventional vegetables. 

Jefferson Rueda

Jefferson Rueda

"I think it made no sense to create a school elsewhere. The pandemic made us look more closely at the land, at the ingredient. And I want to help train cooks who have this relationship with agriculture, who understand the importance of the whole process for gastronomy, not just plating a dish in a fancy kitchen,” he explains. 

Escola Rueda will officially open in two years, but only last month the chef invited some of his staff to the farm to try out the activities he wants to adopt in his training program. "I do not intend to create a conventional school, but a centre of experiences, where cooks from all over Brazil and the world can also come to spend only a season,” he explains. 

Jefferson Rueda staff

Jefferson Rueda's team

This means developing activities that involve different experiences, such as permaculture cultivation and exploring the environment of the river that runs through the property. "I want to help the professionals of the future to understand what they need to change in our food system, to seek a deeper connection with the land, with the surroundings," he says. The school will welcome no more than 20 students at a time and will prioritise underprivileged young people to offer them a better future.

For Rueda, the schools and colleges that dominate the gastronomy education scene started to focus more on the celebrated idea of the chefs, and left aside issues such as sustainability, seasonality, and the importance of understanding where food comes from before even conceiving a menu from scratch.

"From my perspective, the education of the future needs to look to the past. My goal is less to teach fine-cooking techniques, and more to help our students have a broader understanding of the meaning of cooking,” he explains. Rueda feels the pandemic has shown us that we are dependent on each other, and creating a scenario for the future depends on understanding this right now. "This is the only way we can have professionals prepared to assume their position in the food industry.”

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