When the culinary arts program in her small Utah town ceased to exist, Kristen Douglas had no idea what she was going to do. Her and her husband had a booming and busy catering company and she knew that getting an education would make a huge difference for the growth of it and help set them apart from their competitors.On top of her and her husband’s catering company, she’s also a busy mother of seven and grandmother of five. She needed an affordable, convenient, reliable culinary program that not only gave her the skills and techniques to but also the flexibility to continue to manage her business and family affairs. Enter Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Art’s online program. Now enrolled in the program, Kristen can’t wait to see how much she develops as a chef and as a business woman in this new venture.
She took time before school started to talk with us about her catering company, what she hopes to get out of the program and why she thinks others can benefit from online culinary school.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: Tell me about your background in the culinary arts. Where did you start and where are you now?
Kristen Douglas: I have always been the favored cook for family gatherings and neighborhood parties; a few tried and true recipes and the ability to present the food beautifully set me apart (selling Pampered Chef for a couple years certainly helped too). Four years ago a close friend asked me to provide the meal for her son’s wedding party. I had to feed sixty people and it was incredibly stressful for me, but together with my husband, we pulled off a beautiful, simple meal and my friend was ecstatically happy. Within a few weeks I was asked by yet another friend to provide a wedding meal for one hundred and a reception for three hundred. We decided to name our new venture, The Main Event, and we invested in place settings, used my personal collection of display pieces and somehow made it look like we were professionals.
At this same time our local college closed down their culinary arts department (I was planning to take classes there, so I was initially disappointed) and they shuttered their beautiful kitchen facility, creating a need for outside catering at their campus. Enter us. Our town is relatively small and word gets around fast. In the past four years we have catered to most of our local, state and federal government agencies as well as local and statewide businesses. We have fed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (buffet service for 400) and have even fed the bands and crew for Styx and the Beach Boys. We are recognized as the best choice for weddings, reunions, and even business conferences. We have maintained a reputation for delicious food, timely delivery, beautiful display and generous portions. Although we are licensed and insured professionals, I still feel like an amateur, making things up as I go along, hoping no one detects my remaining insecurities. I want to add to my skill set and hone my craft, not only to benefit my customers and grow our business, but also to improve me.
AESCA: What caught your eye about the online culinary arts certificate program?
KD: I am already a busy mom (seven kids and five grandchildren) and the owner of a growing catering service. I simply don’t have the ability to pursue training away from my home. I have always wanted to attend a culinary arts program, and when our local community college shut down theirs, I figured my opportunity was lost. I had seen Facebook posts about Escoffier several times. I was skeptical of the concept of being trained and taught while not being on a physical campus, but then again I also felt that it wasn’t so much learning to cook that I needed but more detailed instruction on how to excel. I decided to request more information and now I am enrolled and looking forward to my journey.
AESCA: How do you feel about online education?
KD: For me, having access to the school online means it is now possible to receive the culinary education I have desired, while still being able to grow my business and take care of my busy family, without even having to leave our valley. As a family we have discussed the time and financial commitment required for me to do this, and although it will amount to a huge sacrifice, it is only possible because of the on-line program. It is awesome that in my lifetime, we have developed the technology making this educational venture even an option. I am grateful for the opportunity, to say the least.
AESCA: How do you feel it can benefit your current catering business?
KD: I want our business to grow, and I feel the Escoffier program will empower us to move forward. To remain competitive we see the need to expand our menu options, improve our efficiency, reduce waste, better train our part time staff, control costs, and stay on target with infrastructure investment. I see us increasing our local market share and even pursuing growth outside of our local vicinity. I have to admit that the cooking and baking training aspect gets me most excited, but I feel the business and kitchen management courses will be extremely valuable as we pursue growth. There is only so much you can accomplish while making things up as you go along, and in some respects we are reaching the limits of our abilities, so tapping into Escoffier presents me with a chance to improve my skills, refine my talents, and increase my lead among my competitors. I have recognized my need for real training, and I am excited to get it from Escoffier in a way that is doable considering my family and business responsibilities.
AESCA: Why do you feel online culinary school can benefit others like you in the industry?
KD: If attending a campus is impossible, as it is for me, I can see no other way to get comprehensive training in the culinary arts than an online program. Catering and food service can sometimes feel like assembly line work, but it can and should be a more elevated experience. Excellence doesn’t come from dispensing the same product but with different pricing, or only striving to provide services comparable to your competition. I feel it is essential to the survival of our family catering business to push the limits, continuously step up our game, and to innovate our services being offered. We are not only competing with others, we are also competing with ourselves, so that every time a customer calls for us, not only will it be a good experience, but it will even be better than the last. Now if there was only a way to keep our local competitors from finding their way to Escoffier, otherwise we can see nearly anyone else, anywhere else, benefitting from this online opportunity.