Very few professional culinary schools offer a plant-based program, even though a large section of their curriculum is, indeed, plant-based. There’s still an attitude that proteins and their Mother Sauces are the star of the show. But not so fast. Cauliflower, in our days as students, was a lame vegetable unless buried under a cheese sauce; kale was used to garnish a platter and then thrown out. Well, things have changed. Not only do our students expect more plant-based content and creativity, but it is being well reflected by savvy restaurant chefs who are doing wonders with ingredients once thought as sidekicks. So we asked ourselves, why not go all the way and do a full-time plant-based course? This 2018 summer term we did.
But what started as a why not project has turned into a holy cow! this changes everything learning experience. Firstly, we decided to apply the same professional mindset, techniques, attention to detail, and theoretical knowledge as in our pro programs. Knife skills and knife sharpening? Of course – and even more so. Mise en place? Certainly – and with more mindfulness. Dry and moist cooking techniques? Naturally, but also dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, sprouting, etc. By recognizing every ingredient as a star in its own right, it opens up how one looks at its possibilities, and it has changed how we introduce and handle every ingredient in the school. If the ubiquitous onion can no longer be taken for granted, imagine how this all changes how we cook with beets, sunchokes, fennel, tomatoes, potatoes, mung beans, and so on.
Also, a plant-based program attracts learners who are open-minded to a very broad spectrum of discussions about food, its whole story from ground to tummy. We value these conversations, and invite all discussions without pontificating one over another. Our real focus is what we do best: teaching kitchen skills and walking the walk to very high technical standards, from knife to plate. We believe a hands-on approach to ingredients is more inclusive and open-minded, less dogmatic and limiting. And it propagates continuous evolution on our part. Food sensibilities and information continuously changes, and the best teachers listen and learn from their students rather than inculcate an uncompromising position. In other words, the plant-based program insists we teach in a state of perpetual openness, ready and willing to make revisions, incorporate new ideas, and include students as a resource of valuable information. This means the summer camp acts, potentially, as a means of evolving how we teach not only our professional programs, but food itself. It already has – unexpectedly.