What it is like to study at the Culinary Arts Institute – the real kitchen experience

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Where to study culinary arts?

The Institute of Culinary Arts at Varna University of Management (VUM) has admitted students for sixth time in the only bachelor’s degree programmes in Eastern Europe in the field of Culinary Arts – “Gastronomy and Culinary Arts” and “Hospitality and Culinary Arts”. Recently these programmes are the only ones who allow graduating with double degree diploma from Cardiff Metropolitan University.

The training in the programmes includes theoretical subjects – everything you need to manage the HoReCa business, as well as practicing in high-tech kitchen equipped by Michelin restaurant manufacturers (from Rational and Fagor convection ovens, 15 double induction systems from the Swiss company MENUSYSTEM to Dudson, Villeroy & Boch, Pordamsa). The institute provides conditions in which students can exercise and feel confident during their internship provided by Varna University of Management in one, two or three Michelin star restaurants. 

For over a year, a new training method has been introduced in the training kitchen – organizing two thematic weekend dinners with which students explore and prepare dishes from all over the world. Among them were Scandinavian, Singaporean, Indian, New Basque cuisine, cooking with farm products “From farm to fork”.

Students are involved in thematic evenings from the second to third weeks after the start of their studies. Whether they are experienced in a kitchen or not – they enter the real work environment right from the start. The training starts with a presentation of the topic and the menu by the Chef instructors on Monday or Tuesday and includes several parts described below.

Monday and Tuesday

Disclosure of the menu and theme by the Chef Instructors. The students are acquainted with the three dishes included in the menu – starter, main dish and dessert with basic recipes given to them. After that comes the discussion – where the products will be purchased from, how they will be selected, the decoration of the training restaurant, and whether during dinner there will be a show program on the example of pop-up dinners. On that day, students have the task of assigning roles and positions in the kitchen for each of the evenings, one of them or a group are being responsible for a different station and a dish. To be noted that second-year students have different responsibilities than the students in the first year.  The more experienced ones manage the tasks, assign tasks, have the right to change their predefined menus, and use different techniques to prepare a particular dish.

Wednesday and Thursday

When students have compiled their plans and have been approved by the Chef Instructor, the products are purchased according to their set budget, which is tailored to the price of the products distributors. After that follows the test preparation of the dishes together with the Chef Instructors.

Interesting fact is that during the menu tests the students have a specially created Calculation table in Excel, in which they add the exact quantity of each ingredient they used by changing the initially set quantities in order to reach the perfect tastes and fit into the budget. Thus, students are learning from the very beginning – one of the most important moments in a restaurant management. They are being developed not only in terms of bearing material responsibility, but also by keeping track of stocks. They are getting used with the use of exact quantities to not have left-overs. The incorrect calculations has led to the failure of many famous Chefs with Michelin star restaurant.

Students prepare dishes from the menu following the instructions of the Chef Instructors while learning new techniques. This way of teaching is different than the usual in most culinary schools and academies. In the Culinary Arts Institute at VUM the students cook in groups of 12-15 people, together with their instructors, following instructions, movements and cutting methods.

In each of the days during the week, the students stay in the kitchen from 7 am to 13 pm. On Thursdays, they go shopping for their evenings on Friday and Saturday, because then the exact number of bookings is already known, the calculations are completed,and the Excel table with the exact quatities is done.

Friday

After having the necessary products and quantities, the students start with the preparations for the evening again from 7am, make the decorations, arrange the restaurant and before the dinner start, the Chef Instructors tell them how to prepare the dishes, how to be plated and served. In the afternoon,  the students take a short break and in the evening it is “service” time. The first guests are welcomed at 18.30 – usually two rounds per night, because the training restaurant has 20 seats, and the interest in thematic events is huge. Therefore, the first group of guests is welcomed at 18.30 and the second at 20.30.

The guests are amazed with the serve of every dish, one of the students is assigned as Head Chef. His role is to manage the completion of the tasks, for the in time  and correct service of dishes, for the presentations of the dishes, as well as the correct correspondence with the guests. The exact role of the students depends on this if she/he is first or second year – the role could be Sous-chef, Saucier, Chef de partie, Cuisinier, Commis and etc.

It is usual the more experienced ones to have more responsibilities, they assign tasks and follow strictly for the right completion by the firt-year students. They already know what is like to work in Michelin restaurant and how to act in every situation, thanks to their internships  provided by Varna University of Management in Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Denmark, France in restaurants with one, two or three Michelin stars.

The whole idea of this kind of training process is to create a real work environment and to prepare the students for their internships. Last, but not least it helps them to learn many different skills, important not only in the kitchen, but in every aspect of the business. They learn to communicate with guests, to have responsibilities, to work in a team with colleagues from different nationalities, with different cultures, religions and traditions. In total Varna University of Management has students from more than 50 countries from all over the world. Interesting fact is that almost 100% of the students go to Michelin-based restaurant on internship, and every year between 5 and 10% of them are invited to THREE Michelin stars. 

As a matter of fact, the Culinary Arts students are among the busiest, because apart from the practice in the kitchen, they also study Finance and Accounting, Marketing, Customer Behavior, Human Resource Management – everything needed for business management in gastronomy, catering etc.

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