By: Alex Charpentier, Culinary Arts Student
As the start date of my culinary career draws near (yes I have a planning calendar that I am marking each passing day off with a large red X) I had the opportunity to sit down with Marcus McMellon, President of the Austin campus for a quick Q&A to get his take on the program, the city and the opportunities in food today.
Q: What is the advantage of being located in Austin, Texas?
A: Austin is a cultural mecca and as part of that, unique culinary experiences are everywhere. From barbeque (Austin was recently named the top city in the country for barbeque) to cold smoked salmon (handmade in Dripping Springs), Austin is all about keeping things “local”. That is how the city came up with the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. It’s all about supporting the local businesses. That ties in fantastically with the Farm To Table® Experience we provide students in our culinary program. We are proud to be part of the Austin community.
Q: What is the importance of the Agricultural Learning Center in today’s culinary industry?
A: It is important to have an appreciation for where our food comes from and what it takes to make it. Our on-site Agricultural Learning Center lets our students experience growing fresh herbs and vegetables to supplement the ingredients used in their education. It helps our students gain an appreciation of seasonality and sustainability of the food they produce.
Q: What advantages does the Escoffier Austin program have to offer?
A: First, its small class sizes. Our Chef Instructors give the personalized attention you need to master various culinary or pastry techniques. Second, the majority of your day is hands-on, experiential learning. Normally each day will begin with a short lecture or demo and then it’s on to the kitchens for production. Third, the Farm To Table® Experience during which our culinary students spend one day each week working with local farm partners.
Q: You have a long history with sustainable farming and the culinary field; tell me a bit about that?
A: Yes, for as long as I can remember my grandfather kept a garden in his back yard and grew fruits and vegetables. He maintained that garden well into his 70’s. I got to see first-hand how much work went into preparing the ground and protecting the garden from insects and the like. I also got to see how my grandmother developed many creative ways to prepare the same vegetables each night. I also watched her pickle and preserve foods to last throughout the off season. I came to appreciate the effort involved utilizing what you have in season and not wasting what you have. Later, as a teenager, I worked in several restaurants where I saw those same principles put to use in a commercial setting.
Q: Why did you decide to get into culinary school education?
A: Although my education was in accounting and finance, I always loved the restaurant business. In 2001, I had the fantastic opportunity to work on the finance side of culinary education. After a few years I transitioned into operations and found out that I really enjoyed it. I have now worked 14 years in proprietary education in Austin and Dallas and I am dedicated to helping students develop marketable skills while pursuing their career goals in the culinary field.
Q: Why do you think so many at home cooks are going back to school to pursue degrees in culinary and pastry arts?
A: I believe it’s due to the success of television networks which help solidify a person’s passion for cooking. They enjoy watching the shows and want to go deeper into the learning. Today, having an education is more important than ever and we can help students learn those skills necessary to be successful in the culinary industry.
After our interview Marcus was inducted into the Disciples d’Escoffier while visiting the Musee Escoffier de l’art Culinaire in Villeneuve-Loubet, France – home and birthplace of Chef Auguste Escoffier. It is clear that he is a tremendous asset to the program, contributor to the growth of the Austin culinary scene and a valuable resource for students both during and after their education.
Talking to Marcus one-on-one during our interview further validated my decision to select the Esocoffier program as the conduit to my culinary future. Is it April 6th yet? I need to grab my red pen and cross off some more days on that planning calendar