The beautiful South Island of New Zealand, with its pristine green mountains, turquoise glacial lakes and picturesque views sets the scene for the formation of a new, innovative learning system designed to teach cooks to become qualified chefs from their own home or work kitchen. International Culinary Studio was founded by Cheryl and Andy Cordier in August 2015 from their home in Christchurch, New Zealand. The culinary studio was created to provide online and blended learning to people wishing to enter the industry and could not afford face-to-face Culinary Education or for people who lived too far from city centres where chef colleges are traditionally based.
For many working cooks, achieving a culinary qualification is only a dream; unable to leave their jobs to study full-time because they need to provide for their families and cannot afford to pay for culinary tuition. The industry has many examples of cooks and chefs who landed in their current role after starting as a kitchen hand or cleaner and stepped in to help the chef when needed. Once they developed their skill and a love for cooking, they stayed in the role and moved up in the kitchen brigade.
Both Andy and Cheryl believe that these cooks and chefs deserve to be recognised as certified chefs by applying for a recognition of their years of experience and contribution to the hospitality industry by afforded them the opportunity to study and become certified with a globally recognised qualification. As you can image, getting anyone to believe that you can study culinary arts online was like taking a flight to Mars!
Both Andy and Cheryl studied through a traditional apprenticeship model in hotels. Andy as a Chef and Cheryl in Hospitality Management. Apprenticeships require you to work in industry for 3 years as a trainee on a minimum wage, being examined throughout your programme before finally being declared competent and receiving your qualification.
Whilst apprenticeships still have their place, they need to be tailored for today’s world needs. Research shows that on average, chefs in a first-world country, remain in industry around 7 years, chefs today do not want to spend three precious years learning their trade before they can progress. Another apprenticeship draw back is that often students from cooking schools with less experience are hired into more senior positions than qualified apprentices, just because they have their ‘piece of paper’ leaving apprentices disheartened and leaving the industry.
After Andy’s apprenticeship, he worked for several large corporate caterers and as a private chef to the Ambassador of Germany, meeting, and cooking for many influential dignitaries. Andy also spent several years in food product development for cheese and food manufactures and latterly joined one of the largest catering operations in Cape Town South Africa, as Executive Chef, managing over eighty food outlets and a large team of chefs. At this time Andy was the Chairperson of the South African Chefs Association in Cape Town, and this was where Andy and Cheryl met.
Around this time, a friend convinced him to join a new catering venture and he went on to run one of the top private catering companies working from the International Cricket grounds in Cape Town, catering to top corporate companies.
Some of Andy’s career highlights include working as preliminary judge for Master Chef South Africa and catering for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, for his 90th Birthday and at his funeral. Andy recalls with pride, at one of the catering events he hosted for Nelson Mandela (Madiba), Madiba shook his hand and said, “You are the most important person here today!”
Cheryl’s story is quite similar. After graduating in Hotel Management and having spent 4 years in various positions, she was appointed as a hotel deputy general manager at the age of twenty-one. After being told that it was unlikely that she would ever become a hotel general manager, and with her love of cooking, she decided to start her own catering business, Country Catering.
After selling Country Catering at the age of 28, Cheryl started lecturing for a private education provider in Durban, South Africa. After being offered a leadership role as head of the Hotel Management Programme, she moved to Cape Town. Once the education bug had bitten, Cheryl moved into a position of Sales Manager with the largest distance education provider in South Africa. Her skills as an entrepreneur saw her being promoted to National Sales Manager and then Business Unit Manager. During this time, Cheryl planned her dream business, to open her own Culinary School offering affordable culinary qualifications. In 2003 she converted a guest house into a cooking school and opened Capsicum Culinary Studio, with just four students. Cheryl grew Capsicum Culinary Studio into a school with six branches country wide, eighty-five employees and over one thousand full-time students each year. Capsicum Culinary Studio was sold to Advtech in XXX, a powerhouse in education in South Africa.
With family in New Zealand, Cheryl decided to emigrate with her family to Christchurch, New Zealand, and open International Culinary Studio, a leading online Culinary Training Provider with a blended approach to education.
Cheryl has won various business awards including, XXX XXX and says she has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend both Harvard and Stanford University business schools developing her skills to build a leading global business.
Why should a chef become qualified?
During her years at Capsicum, Cheryl continually wondered how to help more people become qualified. The words of one of her Hotel School lecturers stuck in her mind. ‘How do you become a Hotel Manager?’ ‘Just buy a hotel?’ the same was true for chefs. How do you become a chef? Just buy a restaurant?
Most other professions require you to qualify before you can call yourself a professional. Examples that come to mind are nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and accountants. So why can unqualified hospitality people own hotels and restaurants?
A few more statistics made interesting reading; we do not visit specialists unless we need their expert opinion or skills, however, a cook is tasked with cooking food that we eat. We do not know if the person has ever been trained to work in a hygienic and safe way!
Have you Googled how many people die from Food Poisonings each year? It is higher than the reported annual Covid deaths. Look at the global hospitalisations from food poisoning and you start to see that we really need to have our chefs and people working with food certified.
Many cooks and chefs have never learnt the nutritional value of food for example, the plates that they serve miss the whole point of food as nutrition. Portion control, standardised recipes, stock rotation, wastage and kitchen safety are all skills that contribute to more profitable kitchens.
It is common for head chefs and restaurant owners to say they cannot afford higher wages for their kitchen employees, but if they were professionally trained, they could run more profitable establishments and offer higher wages.
Cooks often lack training in the correct hygiene and food safety practices. How often do you see chefs walking around outside in their chef’s jackets or uniforms. Some are even filthy? When you are in a restaurant with an open kitchen and see chefs touching their face or hair whilst cooking, are you happy that they may be the person who has just prepared the meal that you are about to eat?
How do chefs apply sustainable practices in their kitchens? Sustainability is an extremely important aspect of a cook/chef role. Do our chefs know how to source and support local, reduce waste, and think of the planet when making kitchen decisions? Research shows that younger customers will only support businesses who are sustainably minded.
What about dealing with the many different dietary, lifestyle, and cultural food requirements? Ten years ago, when catering for an event of one hundred people, there would be between 2 – 10 special diets required, these days it is closer to 50/50. Food allergies also have increased focus as more people suffer from allergic reactions to different food items, resulting in severe illness and even death. Are the people who prepare our food really equipped the knowledge of allergies so that they can cater safely?
You can probably deduce why it is a personal goal of both Andy and Cheryl to have all cooks trained and certified to manage the essential functions of a chef.
Why online culinary training?
Training of chefs has become very costly, the kitchen equipment alone, required to set up a training facility is expensive, let alone premises and other costs. All these costs are passed onto the students as part of their fees.
Today, most people have access either to a fairly well-equipped kitchen, or they have access to a commercial kitchen where they can complete their cooking practicals. It was with this in mind that the idea for International Culinary Studio was born. To create culinary programmes that can be accessed by people around the world, where they can learn from where they are, under the guidance of an online chef instructor and at a time and at a pace that suits them. This way “We bring our classroom to your kitchen!” – our vision.
What will you experience on a professional culinary programme?
International Culinary Studio courses are designed so that a student can study from their PC and/or mobile phone. The course material is interactive; far more engaging than reading a textbook and has an extensive resource library including videoed recipes and cooking skills to support skills development.
Courses are made up of a few modules, and each module is broken down into bite sized chunks with quizzes to evaluate your knowledge, self-assessments, practicals, with assessments at the end of each module. Learning is guided by chef instructors who are passionate industry professionals with many years’ experience in the kitchen. Some still work in kitchens, their passion equalled to Andy and Cheryl’s in that they want skilled people working in professional kitchens.
Initially, students are inducted into their programme by a chef instructor and thereafter weekly check-ins ensure that students stay on track. The learning platform allows for student and instructor engagement and although weekly Zoom or Teams training is held, all the course material is available through your course and the instructor is there to support your learning and facilitate group work.
Cooking practicals are all video based and can be watched over and over, you never miss a class. All the culinary skills and techniques taught can be practised using a home kitchen and then perfected in a commercial kitchen. Students are confident when entering a kitchen for the first time that they are well prepared and understand and have practiced the skills and techniques.
How can you assess students cooking skills online?
One of the questions most frequently asked when assessing online students cooking skills is ‘How do you know if the food tastes good if you never taste it?’ The answer is simple, taste is subjective, what one person may love, another may not. International Culinary Studio focuses on honing students’ skills and techniques, if they are following a recipe correctly the taste will be the same. In industry, chefs cook from standardised recipes which ensures a consistent product each and every time.
Generally, chefs only start to develop the skills of menu creation once they are in a more senior position in the kitchen. Once they have perfected their skills and techniques, they will soon know if their food tastes good, through feedback from their guests.
International Culinary Studio Accreditations
International Culinary Studio, since based in New Zealand, is registered with the New Zealand Qualification Authority as a Private Training Provider. After going through a rigorous process, is approved to offer New Zealand Qualifications to New Zealand citizens and residents. They are also signatories to the Code of Pastoral Care for offshore students. Being an educator in New Zealand is a privilege and we can honestly say that education providers in New Zealand are amongst the top educators in the world. Our online certifications have now been assessed and matched to the World Chefs Société (WACS) and badged to their Global Hospitality Badging System along with City & Guilds (United Kingdom). Our students offshore not only receive this badging but are also awarded the American Culinary Federation (ACFEF) certification on successful completion of their course.
How do we maintain the quality of our programmes?
Our awesome team of professionals at International Culinary Studio have a strict quality management system that they adhere to. The team spend days talking with students and meeting people in the hospitality industry to see how courses can be improved. Students take numerous surveys throughout their programme, providing the team insights into student engagement and any improvements that can be made. By attending regular training, the product development team focus on the latest ways to keep students engaged using the latest online and blended learning methodologies and keep the course material updated as well as constantly creating new video content.
Student contact time
You may think learning online means that you are left to your own devices. This is not the case, student contact time is extremely high with the many videos that students can access, webinars that they attend, and they get added to the student library. You will never miss a class, and you cannot hide in the back of the classroom! Students get access to the membership content platform for free for the duration of their course. Chef Instructors are only an email or Zoom call away. Students also stay in contact during and after their course via a closed Facebook group for students and Alumni.
What about industry experience? What does industry say?
Industry and other stakeholders’ feedback is that our students are well disciplined, self-managed, good with time keeping and are well skilled in all things culinary when they enter the kitchen.
Teaching and learning online has many great advantages other than the course that they are studying. Students develop excellent computer skills; they must plan and execute their study schedule to stay on track and stay self-motivated. They can refine their skills in the comfort of their own home where they have time to reflect and perfect what they have cooked or baked, without added pressure of the harsh kitchen learning environment. This gives them the ability to enter the kitchen with confidence, something people learning on the go, do not get. The degree of urgency in a kitchen can only be learnt in real life. To acquire this skill, our students are required to complete an externship or industry placement, in a commercial kitchen approved by International Culinary Studio. Students complete a daily logbook which is signed off by a competent and certified chef in industry and then assessed by the student’s chef instructor, also a qualified assessor. Regular discussions are held during this practical to ensure students are having the best real practical experience afforded to them. Often students are offered a full-time position during their industry practical and so, selecting an industry placement wisely is critical.
What do our students say?
Most students cannot believe how much they have learnt during their programme, they all rate our chef instructors highly and find the learning platform easy to navigate. Our students have an extremely high completion rate; currently over 70% which is exceptional for online education. All our students say they gained an enormous amount of confidence and exceeded their own expectations managing their programme in their already busy lives. They share commonly that they get promoted soon after joining a kitchen or on completion of their programme. A few have started their own restaurants, and some have even launched their own food product range. We continue to stay in touch with all our past students to see how their careers are evolving.
What are your career choices?
It is interesting to see the number of not so obvious career choices once qualified as a chef. The usual would be to join restaurants, catering companies, events, cafés, and hotels.
A few years ago, working on private yachts, large cruise ships, being a food stylist, a food journalist, or a personal chef to celebrities or film crew catering was in vogue.
As with food trends, job trends have changed. A recent prospective student said he wanted to become a chef to provide nutritional food to people in sites after natural/global disasters. We now have successful food bloggers, tik tok stars, Instagram foodies, cloud kitchens, sustainability chefs (chefs who focus on working with sustainable ingredients such as using ugly fruit and vegetables), chefs who mix science with food (molecular gastronomy). New product development has never been so exciting; chefs trying all sort of new ingredients (dried goat milk ice cream), infusing so many different flavours (Matcha comes to mind). Vegan restaurants have become extremely popular. Chefs are experimenting with different food products as alternatives to animal proteins.
Of course, we cannot forget the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IOT). In the previous 40 years the microwave was the biggest and most impressive food invention. Today, new SMART kitchen appliances can slice, beat, whisk, and cook by pressing a few buttons, or controlled from your phone. Hamburgers are being made by robots, food ordering is done online, restaurant meals are delivered by taxis, groceries can be ordered by the same App you use to book your UberX driver. Smart fridges can show you images of what you have inside your fridge whilst at the grocery store, you can update your shopping list using your voice, play music whilst cooking and recommend what to cook based on the ingredients you have in your fridge and or what you recently ordered.
Online education is now more acceptable
Thanks to the Covid19 global pandemic, online education has been recognised as an excellent way of learning. International Culinary Studio is positioned as a leader in the culinary education field and our graduates are increasingly sought after.
Cheryl and Andy, along with their family, continue to work in the business daily, having lots of fun creating new courses, materials, and videos, managing their brilliant team and they still must master TikTok! They hope to leave a legacy of chefs who are proud of their profession, certified and recognised as global chefs.