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Interesting piece in Time about how the nation’s culinary schools, fueled by attention-getting enterprises like the Food Network, celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Nigella Lawson, and television shows like “The Restaurant,” are beginning to attract younger and more committed students.

“In 1997,” Time reports, “only 22% of applicants to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., were recent high school graduates. Today that number is 38%. At the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco, nearly 20% of the 1,910 students in last year's incoming class matriculated straight from high school — a marked increase from 2000, when that number was less than 5%.”

What this means, according to the magazine, is that the culinary life isn’t being seen primarily as an escape hatch for people fed up with being corporate executives, lawyers, and doctors. Rather, people are attracted to the essentials of being a chef. “Even the most establishment-minded parents would be gratified to see how intensely students pursue their cooking classwork,” Time reports. “While sophomores at traditional four-year universities skillfully avoid scheduling classes before 10 a.m., students at culinary schools willingly rise before dawn to laminate pastry dough. On their own time, they cheerfully practice the sautéing, flambéing and knife-wielding skills they have learned in class.”

Of course, it isn’t just the sautéing and flambéing that is attracting young people. It’s also the fact that some chefs have the same kind of appeal as some rock stars.
KC's View:
Y’know creating culinary scholarship programs is something that every food retailer ought to do. If they could sponsor cooking schools and contests, and try to attract more young people to a food-oriented career, it’d help raise the level of commitment and talents for the entire food biz. We read all the time about stores and chains that offer their employees various kinds of scholarships, but rarely do we see programs specifically targeting food programs. It seems to make a lot of sense.

As a parent and confirmed eater, we’d be thrilled if one of our kids wanted to become a professional cook. The hours may be long and hard, but it seems like such a rewarding, creative life.

We always thought that if we’d known 30 years ago what we’d end up doing for a living, we’d have studied both journalism and cooking in college. As it happens, we never took a class in either. (Some of our critics won’t be surprised by the lack of journalism schooling…)

(Anybody who wants to offer us a late life scholarship, just call 203-662-0100…)