Audrey Claire on the COOK Masters Program

Earlier this week, COOK announced the launch of its COOK Masters Program, an intensive series that will provide intensive training to deserving culinary students and amateur chefs looking to launch a real-deal culinary career. We caught up with program mastermind Audrey Claire Taichman, who’s always a great interview, to get some more info on this new-to-Philly concept. To read more about the COOK Masters Program, click here!

COOK’s day-to-day mission is celebrating Philly’s “masters of food and drink.” So what was the motivation for establishing the COOK Masters Program, tailored to the industry’s next generation?

It was very simple — we just wanted to give back. There are so many people out there who want to make food a career, but sometimes they simply can’t afford culinary school or have any number of other barriers. We wanted to build a program that gave an opportunity to those who really wanted it, not just those who could afford it. There is a wealth of talented chefs in this town and it’s important that they help foster the next generation of chefs.

How did the conversation about establishing the COOK Masters Program get started?  How fast did it develop?

Honestly, since COOK opened last year, we’ve been talking about a program of this nature. We just needed to get a year of programming under our belts. Now that we have been so warmly embraced, it seemed like the right time to solidify the program. And getting all these chefs to agree to be a part of it couldn’t have been easier. They were all so eager to sign up. We couldn’t wait to share the idea with Philly Mag and Foobooz, who are our partners on the project — and they are so excited, too!

What do you think the Masters Program will offer that more traditional culinary instruction does not?

Besides the fact that it will be no cost to the students, they will learning first-hand from some of the best chefs working today. All of them can share their real-life restaurant kitchen experiences with their students. Also, this face time with chefs will ideally open the door for some of these up-and-comers to stage, or work for one of these chefs in their own kitchens.

The lineup for the Masters Program is impressive [more on Foobooz]. How did you go about selecting the instructors? What characteristics were you looking for?

The lineup isn’t even done yet! We just started making calls and haven’t finished — not one person has said no.  We also wanted to pick people that we knew had the right mix of backgrounds and experiences. We feel it’s important to to have a diverse instructor pool so the students are exposed to a variety of topics and techniques.

What were the chefs’ reactions when you told them what you were planning?

“Totally. Count me in!” “Awesome!” “Great!” And they are doing this all gratis, which speaks volumes. I think it reflects really positively on the sense of community among chefs that they were all so enthusiastic right off the bat. Their responses to the program have only made us more excited!

Walk us through the plan for a typical Masters Program class. Just how hands-on will the experience be for students?

Very hands on. They will a ton of slicing and dicing. But there will also be field trips, say, to Osteria with Marc Vetri to get flour and dough in their hands. Zahav‘s Michael Solomonov is going to have a mock service with them, walking them though all the stations, making sure to fire food in a timely manner and expedite properly. Those are just a few ideas of many!

How will the program’s students be selected?

Applicants will need to convince us of their passion and serious dedication all things culinary. We are working out the specifics of it now with Foobooz, and there will be much more info there soon. There will be a standard application, but it will not be judged heavily by your typical “where have you worked?” resume kind of stuff. It’s not about that for us. Applicants will also be interviewed in person. We want to make sure we get the students who want it the most — the ones who are super-passionate about making this a career. I can’t wait to meet them!

Photo: Don Pearse.

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