Becoming a Chef

For the people interested in the restaurant industry, there’s a marvelous book called “The Making of a Chef” by Michael Ruhlmann. A food journalist, Ruhlmann enrolled at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and went through the grueling program. In the book, he writes about what it’s like to go from novice to professional, learning from endless repetition how to clarify stock, prepare mother sauces and produce perfect knife cuts—the traditional building blocks for a career as a chef.

Becoming a chef isn’t easy. It takes years of study and lots of practice. And if you go to the CIA, it takes a lot of money, as well. Tuition for the four-year program costs more than $110,000—and that doesn’t include room and board.

In the Sacramento region, aspiring chefs have another option. American River College offers a two-year culinary arts program that provides a similar education to the CIA’s at a fraction of the price.

It offers building-block classes such as Food Theory, Calculations in Food Service Occupations and Beverage Operation and advanced classes such as Professional Cooking, Cost Control and Advanced Baking and Pastry. A couple of years ago, the school spent more than $8 million on new state-of-the-art kitchens, labs and classrooms.

The program’s 400 students learn from local restaurant professionals: Teresa Urkofsky, who worked for Para-gary’s and Pava’s; caterer Roxanne O’Brien; restaurant consultant Kathi Riley Smith; Tarts & Truffles founder Judy Parks; and Doug Silva, who owned Silva’s Sheldon Inn. Brad Cecchi, a graduate of the program who went on to get a Michelin star, is teaching a class this semester while he gears up to open a restaurant in East Sacramento.

Pizza with caramelized onions, potatoes, Tasso Ham and egg

For students, the capstone of ARC’s culinary program is a semester-long stint working at The Oak Cafe, a fine-dining restaurant on the campus. Open for lunch Wednesday through Friday, the cafe offers students real-world experience in running a restaurant. The students rotate through all the positions, from dishwasher to head chef, getting the chance to work the hot line, the grill, the pizza oven and the cold station making salads and desserts.

Open to the public, the cafe offers a three-course prix fixe menu that changes weekly and costs $17. It could be Palestinian food one week, New Orleans cuisine the next. In early March, for instance, the menu featured smoked pork belly with pickled ramps, butter-poached white fish with risotto in carrot-dill broth and raspberry-hazelnut cookies with fluffed chocolate milk. Diners make reservations a month in advance, and dining slots fill up quickly. (Walk-ins generally can find a seat at the bar.)

Becoming a Chef

Urkofsky teaches the cafe class and says it sets students up for restaurant jobs after they graduate. They end up in the kitchens of top local restaurants such as Ella, Paragary’s, Mulvaney’s B&L and The Waterboy. Several students have gone on to work at Gary Danko in San Francisco and at Bouchon in Napa. One worked at El Bulli in Spain. Another grad recently competed on Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons” and won $10,000.

David Enrico
David Enrico prepares a salad

Urkofsky admits that some students are attracted to a restaurant career because TV shows like Bravo’s “Top Chef” make it seem glamorous. In a class called Becoming a Chef, “we tell them this is really hard,” says Urkofsky. “You won’t get paid much. You’re going to get burned. You’re going to get cut. You’re going to work on your birthday and Mother’s Day. You don’t go out to dinner; you make dinner.”

But most of her students are serious about a career in food, she says. “We’re training them to work in a professional kitchen,” she says. “They can go anywhere from here. They might start at OneSpeed and work their way up to The Waterboy. It just makes me so proud.”

Rabbit fricassee
Rabbit fricassee over cornmeal biscuit

4700 College Oak Drive
(916) 484-8526

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