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October 8, 2015

Florida Life - Dining

Edible Education

Chris Sherman | 9/1/2010
Machon, Le Cordon Bleu, in Orlando
Machon, Le Cordon Bleu, in Orlando

The Machon restaurant has all the trappings of a fine restaurant — a gleaming, mosaic-tiled dining room, white tablecloth-treatment and stylish Jens Risom chairs. Its large, modern kitchen is staffed by 12 to 18 chefs, one sporting a tall toque creased on top in the grand European style.

But what sets Machon apart from others is that it’s the working classroom of a culinary school, part of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, a sprawling complex of classrooms and kitchens far removed from tourist Orlando. At night by candlelight, you’d never know you’re in an office park.

Chef’s Palette at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale
Class work at Chef’s Palette at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

Educating chefs has taken on new cachet lately. Since television created the celebrity chef culture, students can dream of having their own cable shows and cookware lines along with running their own restaurants. And with fewer restaurants hiring chefs in the down economy, plenty of people are using the time to study in academic kitchens and in a “real restaurant” such as Machon — they want to be ready when business starts to simmer again.

Some 1,800 students come here, in three shifts a day, to earn professional credentials, and Cordon Bleu has a second campus in Miami. This Orlando school may be the largest chef’s school in Florida. In the last 15 years, the state has gained at least seven schools and colleges specializing in cooking. It is a phenomenon repeated across the country as would-be chefs line up for one-, two- or four-year degrees costing up to $20,000 a year.

Johnson & Wales University, one of the first U.S. culinary schools, now has a campus in North Miami. The Art Institute, a national network of career schools, has campuses in Tampa, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale, each swarming with hundreds of students. Keiser University offers two-year degrees in culinary and pastry arts in Tallahassee, Sarasota and Melbourne.

On the high school level, too, culinary careers have hot new status, proof that foodie fascination and televised glamour has created still more hunger for culinary skills — and jobs. Pinellas County just opened the $5-million Jacobson Culinary Academy at Tarpon Springs High School, with two kitchens and 48 cooking stations, where students will study for four years.

Most of the colleges have student-run restaurants that give diners a taste of future chefs, a look behind the scenes and cooking classier than their modest prices.

Tags: Dining & Travel

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