Since 1984, the French Culinary Institute teaches the basics of French cuisine in New York. Last November, the school inaugurated a campus in California, under the benevolent eye of its dean and vice-president, French chef Alain Sailhac.
Dan Barber, Best Chef in the United States in 2009, and David Chang, Best Chef in New York in 2008 for Momofuku both honed their culinary knives at the French Culinary Institute (FCI). This establishment, based in the Soho district of New York, has taught its students the techniques of French cuisine for over 25 years. With 1,600 apprentices in 2011, the institute is now recognized as one of the best cooking schools in the world.
And it is on the West Coast that the FCI decided to settle last November, in the small town of Campbell, an hour south of San Francisco. A bucolic setting with vineyards and hills as far as the eye can see. “The program is different and obviously adapted to the particularity of the West Coast,” says Chief Alain Sailhac, Ambassador and Executive Vice President of the FCI in New York. “In particular, we will give a special place to wine. The oenology instruction is very interesting and indispensable there because we are right next to the Napa Valley. Vegetable primer learning will also be more important than in New York. “California is the garden of the United States. You have to take advantage of the West Coast benefits. ”
In California, the FCI has moved into the premises of a former cooking school that is losing steam. Still undergoing renovations, between 200 and 300 students will soon study in this building. If 82% of students are American, the school is open to all nationalities. “The basis of gastronomy is French cuisine. It is therefore normal for people from all over the world to come to our place. What they learn will be useful regardless of the type of restaurant they will work in, “says Alain Sailhac.
The institute now offers six different levels in six months. And for students of the last two classes, the opportunity to cook, under the guidance of teachers, in the app restaurant called The School. No age or experience required at the entrance. “You just have to show your passion for cooking. Students just out of high school rub shoulders with fans of French cuisine and forty-something who have decided to change their career. “For thirty years, Americans have realized that one can make a fortune by holding a restaurant. Just look at Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Eric Ripert. The American Emeril Lagasse earns over $ 135 million a year! According to Alain Sailhac, the opportunity to set up your own business and grow quickly explains the recent craze for cooking in the United States. “You can earn more than a lawyer, a doctor or an architect”.
Alain Sailhac, guarantor of the French tradition
Every day, Alain Sailhac goes from kitchen to kitchen to meet the students. Sometimes he stops to do a demonstration. If his role does not oblige him to come to school every day, it is pleasure that motivates him. “I like to see the incredible progress of students. And if he’s no longer behind the stove, the 75-year-old still wears his white jacket. “That’s why we continue to call myself a chef,” he smiles. “I embody French gastronomy because of my age and my career,” he continues.
A native of Millau in Aveyron, Alain Sailhac owes his arrival in the United States in 1965 to Grand Chief Raymond Oliver. “He called me to tell me that his godson was opening a restaurant in New York the following week. I received the call on Thursday, and from Saturday I was on the plane. Alain Sailhac will then pursue his career at the Plaza, then Chicago at Parrot before returning to France. He will return to New York in 1974 to settle there permanently. First at the famous restaurant Le Cygne then at Cirque, the legendary sign that allowed him to get four stars in the New York Times. In 1991, he joined the management of the FCI, to give a new impetus to the curriculum. “I only thought of staying a few weeks at the beginning, the time to do some cleaning. It takes passion to work in the restaurant business. And some did not have any. Twenty-two years later, Alain Sailhac still wanders in the huge FCI kitchens. “Not so long ago, an 87-year-old man came to school to learn how to make bread. Just for his pleasure! It’s great to see the passion that some people have to cook, it makes me happy! “