Yesterday, the French Culinary Institute announced it would be expanding to the West Coast with a branch campus at the former Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, California. Curious to know why the school was expanding its operations to California — and how it intends to become what its press release called a “premier global brand” — we called up the school’s founder, Dorothy Cann Hamilton.
FCI, which is based in Soho, is branching out to the Bay Area for a “couple of reasons,” Hamilton tells us. “Diversification is a good thing, especially because in this country, there’s a lot of regional cuisine. New York is a world city, but our students really do work all over America. And with the whole sustainable movement of the last 20 years, students today need to know as much about where product comes from as technique.”
California, Hamilton explains, is “the perfect petri dish” for teaching students about sustainability and the origin of ingredients, and its geography will allow for courses in agriculture, viticulture, aquaculture, and animal husbandry.
But just as the classical French technique taught at the New York school will also make its way west, some of the California campus’s curriculum will travel east: Hamilton says Cesare Casella, the school’s dean of Italian studies, is working with a farm in Sullivan County to incorporate sustainability lessons into the school’s offerings, and FCI is planning to take “a closer look” at urban farming with the rooftop garden Zac Pelaccio (an FCI alum) grows in Brooklyn.
In addition to moving in a more sustainable direction, the school is moving toward Asia, Hamilton says, thanks to encouragement from numerous graduates who return to there after completing their studies. “There’s a whole explosion of the economy there, with hotels and restaurants multiplying faster than you can think,” Hamilton says. “And they [the cooks] need training very, very badly.” She adds that Daniel Boulud has expressed interest in having a school in Beijing to supply his restaurant, Maison Boulud; Hamilton has had a similar conversation with Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
One place FCI isn’t planning to go is France, though the school has had discussions about developing a finishing program there similar to the one the students of its Italian program do in Italy. But, she adds, “we’re pursuing a lot of things, and don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. But in the next three to five years, expect an expansion of the FCI brand.”
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