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Expanding Your Culinary Horizons - Chef David Gilbert

From Jet-setting to Green Cuisine

What makes a chef great these days? As a professional who began his career prior to the rise of "celebrity chefs" and mass branding of products, there was one thing that separated the good from the best--a passion for learning and exploring world food culture!

Culinary Arts

I think there are several forgotten elements that can contribute to a chef's culinary growth. Here are some I'd like to share with young cooks entering the industry.

Culinary Globe-Trotting

Traveling can broaden your culinary horizons more than any other activity. Whether traveling to another part of the United States or another country entirely, the exposure is unreal. I always had a passion for learning about other cultures and why they eat the foods they do. How did these foods come about? What are the customs behind their cuisine or specific dishes? It's important to go far beyond just the flavor profile or re-creation of a dish.

I encourage all my young chefs to get out and see the world, experience other cultures, taste their street foods, and carry those experiences into their own kitchens. It takes real discipline to save that kind of money, especially by peeling potatoes or sautéing grouper. But I assure you it is money well spent; you're investing in yourself. What chef does not want to eat fresh noodles from a Vietnamese market, Kudu meat from Namiba, or ceviche in Mexico? This life experience is a must!

Going Green: Food Sustainability

Food sustainability has become an important issue for chefs all around the globe. Using only local produce, recycling cardboard and glassware, disposing of used oil correctly-all simple things that really make a difference. It is about doing the right thing now, not tomorrow (when it could be too late). The environment is always changing and it is important that we do our part as chefs.

Consider the "Green movement." Saving the earth isn't just for hippies. A task that may take an extra 10 minutes of your team's day, like recycling, can have an important impact elsewhere. Sure, it's easier for us to send the porter downstairs to toss the boxes and empty wine bottles than to be proactive and separate them for recycling. But thinking long term is going to keep costs for all of us down now and in the future. The price of packaging has skyrocketed in the past few years because we do not take the time to recycle. Don't think that the vendors absorb the costs--we do as restaurant owners and chefs.

Another ticket to green cuisine is supporting local growers. Using fresh, local produce not only improves your menu, but goes a long way in supporting your local agriculture (especially smaller family farms struggling to compete with big agribusiness.) Check out Chef2Chef's Farmers' Market directory to find a Farmer's Market near you!

Staging: Know What the Other Guy is Up To!

Staging, or shadowing another chef, seems to be a dying culinary trend. Never be too proud to see what others in the industry are up to. I take a week each year (unpaid) and go to work in other kitchens. It's great exposure to new ingredients, techniques, and styles of cuisine. Staging also provides fabulous networking opportunities. It is a very small culinary world and the great chefs of today embrace others coming into their kitchens and learning about what they do.

Learn the Business Side of Food

One of my old chefs once said that a chef is just a businessman that knows how to cook, so he suggested I start learning about accounting and leadership. Wow, I thought, who is this guy? I am a chef. We cook! We don't sit in the office running numbers and doing paperwork, right? Nevertheless, I took his advice and got several books on restaurant accounting, leadership, marketing, and branding. (By the way, I highly recommend Michael Rhulman's Reach for a Chef).

You know what? Learning those business skills has paid off. Most great chefs really are business gurus! They wear a chef jacket, but they are running a business, not just cooking great food! In order to grow your business, you have to be able to manage your business from a distance, separating yourself operationally.

A Final Word about Your Culinary Growth

It is critical that you align yourself with the best talent and greatest mentors you can find. I highly suggest, before accepting any job, that you confirm the chef under whom you'll be working is an industry leader, or at least soon to be! When you work for a great chef, you never feel stagnant--they always push you to be better and to achieve more. A great chef can take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to broaden your culinary horizons. Isn't that what being a chef is all about?

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            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
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            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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            Sullivan University is a private institution of higher learning dedicated to providing educational enrichment opportunities for the intellectual, social and professional development of its students. The institution offers career-focused curricula with increasing rigor from the certificate through diploma, associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree levels. Throughout those curricula, the university seeks to promote the development of critical thinking, effective verbal and written communication, computer literacy, and teamwork as well as an appreciation for life-long learning, cultural diversity and the expression of professionalism in all activities. At the graduate level, the university also seeks to promote a culture of research.

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            Baker College - Ground , Clinton Township

            Baker College is the largest independent college in Michigan with the most focused approach to education and training available. Our mission is to prepare you for meaningful employment.

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            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
            • 15,000 graduates, including celebrities like Bobby Flay, David Chang, and Christina Tosi*
            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
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            • Offers career-focused programs in allied health, business, and computer technology, and more.
            • On-the-job training available through externships, internships, and clinical placements.
            • Graduates in good standing can take refresher sessions in courses at no additional cost.
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            • Students get real-world experience through the required externship at the end of the program.
            • Curriculum includes laboratory sessions, academic preparation and hands-on experience.
            • Program objectives are to provide students with skills needed for cooking wholesome, attractive, food preparations and to assist graduates in obtaining positions in the food service industry.
            • Accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
            • Has campuses in Melbourne, Sarasota, and Tallahassee, Florida
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