Amateur Hour: Home Cooks Are Moving In On Professional Chefs

I started cooking 20 something years ago, back when the only connection between the names Julie and Julia was in the spelling. At that time there were basically two recognized classifications of cooks: the professionals, who cooked in restaurants, and the amateurs, who cooked at home– but there were also a small group of cooks who hovered somewhere in between. These were the home cooks who were legendary for their culinary prowess. People like the BBQ master, whose smoky, succulent ribs required more supplies and days to assemble than a rocket ship, or the soccer mom, who was crushing up Heath Bars and adding them to homemade ice cream long before those two hippies from Vermont thought to do so.

With the exception of a few success stories, like Debbie Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies, most ambitious cooks never thought to expand their talent beyond the home kitchen.

Today, however, the story for nonprofessional cooks is quite different. For those who aspire to take their talent to the extreme, there are shows like The Next Food Network Star, where amateur cooks compete for their own television show, and Breaking Into Tesco, a British reality show in which contestants compete to get their food product manufactured and sold in one of England's largest supermarket chains.

San Francisco has definitely caught the fever too, and is now amassing a whole new generation of culinary talent. Food carts, a fantastic venue for enthusiastic cooks to show off their skills, seem to be appearing on every corner with their popularity based less on the reputation of the cook, than the quality of the food. Local favorites include a curry cart, a pie cart and a pizza cart, none of which is run by a professional chef.

At La Cocina in San Francisco, affordable commercial kitchen space is provided to low income entrepreneurs (primarily women) with the intent of helping them produce and sell their products. Currently over 20 businesses create food here, the ideas for most of which started out in home kitchens.

Another recent San Francisco food craze sees both amateur and professional chefs competing in local cooking competitions, often attended by as many as 200 guests. SF Food Wars is a monthly event where roughly 20 cooks compete for cash, prizes and a coveted “champion” title. The event theme changes each time, with past themes ranging from macaroni and cheese to bread to holiday side dishes.

Another monthly competition, Iron Cupcake, features cooks facing off on rotating cupcake themes. Sometimes the themes revolve around flavors, as with this month's 'bacon', or around more broad concepts, such as last month's 'love'.

In both of these competitions, attendees sample every item and it is their collective vote that determines the winners.

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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.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
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            • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
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            • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
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            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
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            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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            • Received the 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.
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            • Culinary Arts program includes the 3-week Farm To Table® Experience, where students gain a direct, in-depth look at where food comes from.
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            • Accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 campuses located in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
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            • Offers educational opportunities for the aspiring, career-minded chef.
            • Students are trained by professional chefs and spend the majority of their final term working in the campus restaurant to learn all phases of the culinary industry.
            • St. Louis campus offers new Food Truck Entrepreneurship courses.
            • Has a student-run food truck that tours around St. Louis.
            • All campuses have a public restaurant where food is prepared and served by students.
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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.
            • Day and evening class options are available for flexible scheduling.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
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