Over Christmas break when I was home in Michigan and finally had cable again, I was searching through the OnDemand options and found a show called “Chef Academy“. I thought it might be profiling the lives of people attending culinary school similar to that of Johnson and Wales, so I decided to try it out.
Turns out the show is about cooking classes for the home cook but they are advertising it as a “culinary academy” where you will graduate with an actual certificate in culinary arts. The chef and owner of the Novelli Academy, as it is called, is Jean-Christophe Novelli, a French chef that got his start baking at the age of 14. There is no discounting Novelli’s talents, but in the show he spends most of the time with perfectly coiffed hair trying to persuade his students into idolizing him.
The Web site for the Novelli Academy is filled with posed pictures of Jean-Christophe smiling and smirking and you have to search to find a photo of just the food or the school itself.
On the show, the students consist of an odd mix of professions and ages and only 3 people seem to actually have the desire to cook for a living. They spend the whole show violating many sanitation and health codes: hair down, Flo Jo length nails, wiping tears from their face and then touching the food again. Its one thing to learn to make good food, but seeing these people work makes me feel like I am coming down with food poisoning!
In the 12-episodes that follow several weeks in the life of these students, they are only taught a list of 30 dishes, which is enough to graduate with a certificate from the Novelli Academy. Sure, some of the food looked tasty, but how could you possibly work as a doctor if you only know how to check for a pulse?
As a pastry chef, there is one episode that really bothered me. No one loves fresh herbs in bread more than me, but charcoal that is in the shape of rosemary? Not so much. One day at the Academy was spent making breads of all shapes and sizes. Novelli instructed the students that each piece of bread needed to be adorned with fresh herbs, basically just stuck oddly to the top. I don’t know of many people who want to eat an entire stalk of rosemary, let almost burned-to-a-crisp rosemary!
A False Impression
Calling this show a chef academy and publicizing it as a school where you can “graduate” with a diploma in culinary arts is only a detriment to the food service industry. Showing people that it is that easy to become a professional cook downgrades the hard work and talent that so many have spent years perfecting. I personally feel offended that Novelli, as a seasoned chef himself, is giving such an insult to our profession. I had hoped in the past few years as Food Network television has made this industry so much more popular that it would educate people on what being a cook and chef is really like, and the sweat, blood, and tears that goes into working in a restaurant. I fear that shows like “Chef Academy” will only continue to diminish the perception of difficulty of being a chef. I remain proud of my chosen field and have a lot of pride for the work that I put in, and I hope more people feel this way as well.