The pandemic has drastically altered the daily lives of many professionals in the food industry. More than that, it has cast doubt on the future of one of the most significant sectors in the world economy, in terms of jobs and income. In Europe alone, the agri-food industry provides 46 million jobs in 15 million businesses, accounting for 6% of the EU’s GDP.
While national governments are having limited impact on unemployment in hospitality, a number of chefs have decided to invest in training centers to better equip young professionals with the skills they’ll need for the future. And it’s a breath of fresh air for the whole industry.
In a development that captures the zeitgeist of a sector that is struggling to survive, chefs from around the world have announced that they will be opening their own culinary schools. Among them is the British chef Gordon Ramsay, Italian businessman and chef Niko Romito (Reale and Casadona), and Brazilian chef Jefferson Rueda (A Casa do Porco), all running leading popular / award-winning restaurants in their home countries.
The pandemic has accelerated a trend that has in fact been taking shape for some years, since pioneer chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Raymond Blanc decided to invest in cooks’ primary education. The former was the founder of Pachacutec, a cooking institute on the outskirts of Lima. It was created ten years ago to transform the lives of local youngsters “who don’t have opportunities, but who have the talent,” according to Acurio. As far as the chef who transformed Peruvian gastronomy is concerned, the only way to create a gastronomic scene is from the foundations up.
One year ago, Magnus Nielson, the mastermind behind acclaimed Fäviken, announced he was stepping up as the first MAD Academy director, to “change the way our food system works,” as he stated at the time about his role in the project. After closing his restaurant in Järpen, he now oversees the Copenhagen-based training center’s educational program, focusing on sustainable chef-le solutions both in the restaurant and wider food industry.
With similar purpose, The Gordon Ramsay Academy – Ramsay’s first-ever attempt to run a culinary school, slated to open next autumn – will also support people looking to get into the hospitality industry and offer an opportunity to the next generation of British chefs.
According to Niko Romito, whose Accademia is set to open in 2022, being a chef has never held such a tremendous responsibility as today. “Food is a vehicle to educate people to eat better and to respect the environment; to make them aware of their history, their conscience, and their rights,” he says. “There are many issues related to food right now, and I think it is essential to be aware of the great power of food when thinking of entering the food industry.”
Romito believes today’s chefs must support local producers, give importance to forgotten products, and save biodiversity. He plans to address all these issues on his campus in Abruzzo, with an educational program run in partnership with UNISG – The Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences. “I want to teach my students the fundamentals of Italian cuisine, but mostly to find a personal way to express themselves through food, rather than being influenced by current trends or external factors,” he explains.
The Accademia Niko Romito — which the chef refers to as “the school I would have liked to attend when I first started my journey as a young chef” —is more a restaurant-laboratory run by students and graduates under the supervision of a head chef working closely with the mother-kitchen of restaurant Reale.