The Future of Nashville's Culinary Landscape By Melissa Corbin

It was a beautiful March evening in Nashville. There were local farms, artisans, breweries, distillers, winemakers, chefs, and restaurants loading into the main campus of Nashville Sate Community College for the fourth annual Tennessee Flavors. Over 700 people came out that night to support the scholarship fund established for second-year students attending the Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts. One thing is for certain: Nashvilleâ€TMs palate has matured. In a town where the demand for culinary professionals is staggering, where is an aspiring chef to go for training?

Nashville Public Schools are giving high school students the opportunity to try on a preemptive chefâ€TMs coat in five schools: Hunters Lane, Antioch, McGavock, Hillwood, and Glencliff High Schools. Alyce Scrivner is Culinary Director at Glencliff High School. Here the curriculum offered is by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation “Pro-Start Program.” Scrivner explains, “I want these kids to work in a kitchen, not to learn how to fold a napkin into a rose. They should graduate knowing the basics to work the line.”

Each class has no more than twenty-five students. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors are selected by Principal Clint Wilson and the guidance counselors to study under Chef Scrivner. A typical year for these aspiring chefs includes: safety and sanitation regulations, knife skills, recipe conversions, and technical methods.

While visiting Glencliff High School, senior and junior students were learning protein preparations. Each team was assigned either baked, pan-fried, sautéed, or poached. “This is our family,” said Emilio and Jonathan of the “baked” team. They imparted a delicious adobo flavor to their chicken that had a kick on the back end. That weekend the class was competing in the Tennessee ProStart Culinary Competition, where they won second place.

Interested in tasting these high school studentâ€TMs cooking? Every Wednesday during the school year from 10:15 a.m. until noon, their tearoom is open to the public for lunch. Chicken Kiev and Chocolate Pound Cake for $7? You bet! “I enjoy the tearoom every Wednesday. Itâ€TMs a nice break from having lunch at my desk, and itâ€TMs fun to see the studentsâ€TM talent evolve,” shares Angela Boone, who is the Culinary Arts I instructor.

In a school where 30% of the students are undocumented and only 50% of the other 70% of the student body go on to acquire a secondary education, Glencliff High School students have the opportunity to apply their high school culinary training toward college credit at Nashville State Community College Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts. One student proceeded to culinary school last year, and Scrivner is excited for four culinary students from the class of 2014 who have chosen to continue their education.

Walking into what was once Dillardâ€TMs at Hickory Hollow Mall, there are now sky-lit halls splashed with color that are home to the Southeast Campus of Nashville State Community College. Just around the corner is the Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts, where students can expect 90% placement rate and 100% anywhere thereâ€TMs a kitchen upon graduation. This state-of-the-art kitchen is complete with all the newest tools a student would need to learn how to cook in a commercial environment.

The student demographic tends to skew a little older here. “Out of the approximate 275 students, straight out of high school students are still the minority,” reports Tom Loftis. Loftis is the Nashville State Community College Culinary Program Director. He is a great example of the mid-life career changers tying on their aprons and honing their knife skills. After receiving his bachelorâ€TMs degree from Belmont and working in his family business for years, Loftis decided to go to culinary school. He was part of the second group of students to ever graduate from the Nashville State culinary program, which started in 1997.

The Associates of Applied Science is a 60-hour degreed program. Because it is a Tennessee Board of Regents approved program, credits are transferrable to other state schools offering bachelorâ€TMs and masterâ€TMs programs. Most students take longer than two years to acquire their associateâ€TMs due to the full-time jobs they juggle with going back to school. “We expect students to understand such concepts as sanitation and kitchen conduct before ever taking a pastry class,” says Loftis.

The curriculum is based upon semesters that will start with core requirements such as English, speech, and math before progressing to their culinary courses. Prior to graduation, each student must complete two 300-hour paid internships in a commercial kitchen. “This gives dedicated students a head start,” Tom explains. Says culinary student Harren on the campus website, “Iâ€TMm impressed with the Culinary program at Nashville State. The curriculum is challenging and germane to the industry. I am being given the tools I need to have a successful career.”

Loftis shares further, “Scholarships have a community service aspect attached and are offered to second-year students only. Donors stipulate the criteria for those awarded. Chefs have a long tradition of community service. It is not only important that a chef be in charge of the kitchen, but that he or she gives back to the community. As long as this program has existed, we have had a relationship with Second Harvest Food Bank (formerly Nashvilleâ€TMs Table). We also work with programs such as the Martin Center and St. Lukeâ€TMs.”

The vehicle in which students give back is the Esscoffier Society. Its mission “is to expose the minds of all students to the world of Culinary Arts through activities of community and campus service and the different avenues that this profession has to offer,” describes their Facebook page, “a place to celebrate cooking, eating, and coming together over food.” The Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts costs $150 per credit hour and will run approximately $9,500 to complete the program.

Looking to the right on I-40 East headed toward Hermitage, one will recognize the white, modern building that is home to the Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville, a branch of the Art Institute of Atlanta. Offering associateâ€TMs and bachelorâ€TMs degrees in culinary arts, baking and pastry, and culinary management, this private college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It is also authorized by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

As Academic Director, Chef Anthony Mandriota believes, “Food science is what separates a cook from a chef.” He continues, “Knowing how to create a flavorful dish with balance is key. We teach students not only how to cook, but also how to run a business…pennies on the dollar sometime determine whether a business will stay open or close.” Mandriota is thankful for the budget that a private school offers. “We buy the ingredients we need, such as truffles and foie gras…Iâ€TMm also really proud of the equipment we have.” Chef Anthony lists his favorite kitchen tools to be their new immersion circulators.

A tour of the dry storage room proves there are not many cans, as Mandriota proudly explains that the students make everything from scratch. His attention to the local food movement is also important to note. He says, “We take every class to the Nashville Farmersâ€TM Market and the Franklin Farmersâ€TM Market. The Food and Beverage class takes field trips to Arrington and other local vineyards.”

The Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville culinary student can expect to learn classical techniques in the first set of fundamentals and foundations classes, which are theory-based, before attending lab classes that last five hours at a time, which are menu-based. Most of those classes are in the evening or early morning in order to prepare students for the hours a culinary professional may keep. “Maybe theyâ€TMre not an expert at a specific cuisine, but a student will know the techniques and major flavor profiles,” Mandriota points out, noting that “a balanced plate is an art form. It takes a long time to train your palate…and then of course making money for your investors is always a priority.”

Prior to graduation, students are required to participate in a practicum. The scope of this class is to organize a fundraiser from scratch for Second Harvest Food Bank. From menu-planning and marketing to distributing the funds, students have the opportunity to learn firsthand the necessary steps in producing a successful fundraiser. They also must work in the on-campus restaurant called Courses before receiving their degree. It is not a profit center and is run at 50% food costs. Dependent upon the time of year, the general public can enjoy lunch or dinner. During the summer months, one can eat a delicious dinner of filet mignon for around $11. “Please be mindful that Courses is a culinary classroom. Your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated,” the menu reads.

The Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville has a diverse student demographic of around 300 culinary students. There are quite a few career changers in that mix. Ashley Szudajski became a culinary student after she and her husband moved to Clarksville two years ago. “I came from the medical industry. Nashville had a lot to offer me in the culinary world. I want to get into the field and gain some experience before opening my own place,” she shared while holding a handful of eggs about to be added into her pastry recipe. Pastry student Charlotte Miller shared, “If I could do what I wanted to do, I would own a high-end bakery serving breakfast and lunch. Of course, owning a test kitchen would also be nice.”

Walking down the hall, Mandriota points out the job board loaded with open positions. He says that graduates have taken chef positions at restaurants and on cruise ships, some have become caterers and a few have even become teachers. “The Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville will take you to a totally different place,” smiles Chef Mandriota. The Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville tuition ranges from $25,272 for a diploma in Baking & Pastry to $87,480 for a bachelorâ€TMs degree in Culinary Arts Management. Financial assistance is available to those who qualify.

The culinary landscape of Nashville is growing, and its synergy is infectious. There are culinary classes being taught everywhere, from commercial kitchens such as Grow Local Kitchen at the Nashville Farmersâ€TM Market, to pre-determined spaces offered by The Skillery. The Cookery is working to re-establish identity and sense of purpose and destiny with the homeless by offering a culinary school sponsored by local churches and civic groups…and the list continues. By nurturing the future culinarian, Nashville has become known for much more than its music. Music City has become a most sought-after epicurean delight, and the classroom is where it all begins.

[use bio from spring 2014]