In questionable economic times, people tend to hit the bars, go to movies–and go back to school. In the Food Network Era, when food is not only a daily necessity but a commodity, popular entertainment, the subject of reality television, and even a venue for celebrity, we thought we'd check in and see what's up with culinary schools these days. Or rather one particular culinary school: Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (formerly the California School of Culinary Arts), which is the only Le Cordon Bleu school in Los Angeles.
There are three Le Cordon Bleu schools in California, and 17 in North America. (The school that Julia Child attended, in Paris, is part of a separate international system.) Maybe it's because of the recession, or the rock star popularity of Julia Child, or because we live in a culture where Padma Lakshmi is as famous for her palate as her ex-husband and her looks, but the student population of Le Cordon Bleu schools nationwide is up by a rather remarkable 21%.
“The recession has had a definite impact,” says Chef Mario Novo, Director of Regulatory
Operations at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, which is in Pasadena. “Mainly in the number of career-changers.” Many students are going back to school to pursue long-term interests, to “follow their dreams,” says Novo, who says this slight change in demographics has also made for a more diverse student population. Tuition for Le Cordon Bleu schools can run between $15,000 and $50,000, depending on the program.
One thing that hasn't changed is the curriculum, which is based on French technique. “I don't see us changing the methodology that's worked for 200 years,” says Novo. “We don't follow trends.” That said, they do try and keep current. The ingredients have changed, as have the tools of the trade. “We have immersion circulators and an Anti-Griddle. Although I don't think we have nitrogen; I don't think anybody's requested that yet.” The school also now grows their own organic vegetables. “We use more Kobe [beef] now, more geoduck.” Novo says that the gadgets are mostly used in the student-run restaurant, where the students recently made lemon sorbet using the Anti-Griddle. “It looked like a fried egg.”