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An Inside Look at America’s Finest Culinary Schools

Imagine, if you will, a place of employment where individuals with varying skills and cultural backgrounds gather to work for 8, 10, 12 hours or more a day, 6 or 7 days a week. Working for that long, and in such close quarters literally until your legs are numb and your feet hurt and your toes start to curl, seems to be a rather challenging way to make a living. Somehow, the experience ends with the development of a family-like atmosphere, where strong relationships are formed between its participants, turning the small crowded room of stainless steel and tile into a second home for many of its workers - and into the only home for many others. Discovering this sense of community is to many the defining moment for chefs, waiters, and dishwashers alike. It is the glue that binds them, the invisible force that keeps people coming back every day to a job that usually pays less and demands more than most others might.

Before I visited the three culinary schools that are the subject of this article, I read through their brochures, visited their web sites, and looked through their lists of alumni. After significant research, I found equal shares of traits that these schools all shared, yet I also found just enough to set each one apart from the other; some subtle, others not so subtle. But after a visit and a tour of each campus, one revelation stood out head and shoulders above all else, as I walked past the long windows that provided glimpses into the student chef’s classroom activities. These were college students, yet everyone looked so...happy! Just like the restaurants where many of these students will one day begin their careers, a powerful sense of community was as evident as the wonderful smells that were escaping from the kitchen classrooms and into the long hallways. In addition to their educational goals, each of these school’s work environment seemed to have found a way to recreate the feeling of “belonging” to a special group of people, yet on a scale 10, 50, even 100 times larger than even the largest restaurant.

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