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Silicon Valley Gets Schooled

By Stett Holbrook

SAN Francisco has got the California Culinary Academy and Tante Marie. New York has the Culinary Institute Of America. Paris has the Cordon Bleu. And Silicon Valley has ... nothing. Or least it did.

Given our newly minted status as home to America's 10th largest city and our proximity to Northern California's food and wine bounty, the South Bay should have a culinary school to call its own. Now, it does. Campbell's brand new Professional Culinary Institute will welcome its inaugural class of 40 students this summer.

The school offers a degrees in "essential professional culinary skills" and "essential professional baking and pastry skills." The programs and the school itself are designed to differ from other culinary programs by offering smaller student-to-teacher ratios (16 to 1) and a more hands-on, visually based curriculum. And at $21,075, tuition for the eight-month-long programs is about half of what other culinary schools cost.

Richard Battista, PCI president, chef and educator, says the school was founded out of a dissatisfaction with traditional culinary school education.

"I frankly don't like the culinary education being done at other schools," he says, citing high cost, inclusion of nonculinary, general education classes and reliance on lecture-based classes over hands-on demonstration. "It doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense."

Battista insists education at the PCI is different, although instructor demon-strations are certainly not unique to the school. The curriculum is based on the "artisense method," a visually based approach to teaching that he named which emphasizes intense hands-on training.

In addition to Battista, who has been an administrator and instructor at Johnson & Wales, the California Culinary Academy and other schools as well as a corporate chef, the school's faculty includes baking and pastry department chair Bo Friberg, a master pastry chef and author of the award-winning baking text, "The Professional Pastry Chef," and California Culinary Academy instructor. Chef Mial Parker, a three-time Culinary Olympics gold medal winner, heads the culinary arts department, and chef Randy Torres, captain of the Western Region Culinary Olympics team, serves as culinary instructor and student team manager. George Hadres, another former California Culinary Academy instructor, is the PCI's director of education.

The 20,000-square-foot school, which occupies the third floor of a former tech company on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and San Tomas, cost about $10 million to design and equip. While the first class is only 40 students, the school can accommodate 800 students. Battista says he's expecting a bigger class in September. Assuming things go well at the Campbell campus, the school plans to open campuses in Orange County and Shanghai in the future. Check it out at www.pcichef.com.

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From the July 20-26, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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