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How to Make a Culinary Artist

By Regan Houser
April 11, 2012
Appeared in the
Spring 2012 issue of IUP Magazine

Chef Albert Wutsch cooks beautifully for hundreds of people. When it comes to teaching students, though, he's made the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts a standout by emphasizing a unique, small-batch approach.

The Science of Making Culinary Artists

Chef Albert Wutsch

Chef Albert Wutsch

As Chef Albert Wutsch made his way to the beef lab, he stopped to wish the best of luck to a student who was leaving the program. He told her that she should call him if he could do anything to assist her in the future. He meant it.

After all, not everyone can meet the demands of his rigorous program, and some students discover they don’t have the passion to finish, but that doesn’t mean he and his team of teaching chefs don’t care. The IUP Academy of Culinary Arts distinguishes itself from other culinary institutes by remaining small and exclusive. Situated in downtown Punxsutawney, the academy has worked its way into being a landmark presence in the borough since its establishment in the mid-1980s.

Wutsch has led the program for more than two decades. He and his faculty are the lodestar for each class of about 100 students—many recent high school graduates who come from across the country and ocean—to realize their dreams of becoming professional chefs.

Small class size is not the academy’s only unusual feature. Students enrolled in the Culinary Arts program enter together, as a cohort, receive instruction for three semesters, and then complete an externship. The academy also offers students the opportunity to continue their studies in a Baking and Pastry Arts program that consists of two semesters and an externship.

“What students learn on the externship is the production component of their instruction—meaning, in a professional setting, two of us would cook breakfast for 400 people,” Wutsch said. “We aren’t going to do that at school. We can simulate the setting, but it’s on-the-job training that completes the education.”

Wutsch puts great emphasis on externships. He and his fellow faculty members have a long tradition of cultivating relationships with contacts across the country. They favor resort and club properties, because they generally provide multiple settings for students to work in, facilitating a variety of experience but negating the need to travel to more than one location. They strive to create opportunities with prestigious operations, because such experience sets the tone for the students’ careers. Often, because the externship sites have invested in the aspiring chefs’ training, the students will be offered permanent employment.

But, in the months before the externship experience, the program provides instruction in a service-driven atmosphere, using the same philosophy that drives the world’s best resorts, hotels, and restaurants, Wutsch said.

“If you visit a five-star or five-diamond property, guests drive the decision making. Guest service is what it’s all about. The systems don’t drive the decisions. The Ritz Carlton and properties like it are service driven. We view our students as guests, and we try to provide the best service we can to meet their needs. That’s a very different philosophy from other culinary institutes—we can manage that because we’re small.”

Wutsch said he and his faculty try to instill in students that a chef’s skill set has three parts: food and technical knowledge of cooking, the business aspects—“because they’ll be in business to make money; a chef isn’t just a cook”—and the people component.

“They have to know the systems,” he said, “but they need to recognize they’re working in the hospitality industry.

“Those philosophies are incorporated into everything we do throughout the curriculum,” he said. “Just because you saved $15,000 in your linen budget doesn’t mean that you’ve met the needs of your guests. You may have exceeded certain expectations, but you wouldn’t necessarily have met your guests’ needs.”

Generally, demand for trained chefs is high, Wutsch said, but demand is higher for culinarians trained in the spirit of his program.

“We graduate only a hundred students at a time, and we’re finding we don’t have enough to place at these high-quality properties. Our baking students leave in May to go on their externships. Each of them has a job waiting when they finish. Fifty percent of them had a job a year before they were set to leave here.”

Like a proud father, Wutsch likes to talk about the academy’s alumni, whom he hopes will continue to stay in touch, although he recognizes the nature of their profession usually results in many career moves.

“We have had so many success stories,” he said. “We have executive chefs, pastry chefs, owners of their own establishments—they’ve done so many different kinds of wonderful things. Some have become culinary educators and are sending students to us.”

While many of his students have moved on to lofty careers, Wutsch’s goal remains focused on producing students who have strong basic skills—and fire in the belly.

“When they get out there and start working, they can build on all the fluff and fancy stuff, but it’s their attitude and passion that will be their solid foundation.”

Read What Future Chefs Need »

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What Future Chefs Need

What Future Chefs Need

A self-sustaining operation, the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts receives none of its operating budget from state appropriations, although the academy does receive support from the Punxsutawney Area Trust and IUP. With a 100 percent placement rate—students either enter the job market or enter a bachelor’s degree program at IUP—the academy would appear to have everything it needs to operate effectively. But, Chef Albert Wutsch has identified several areas of need that would improve its instructional atmosphere and further benefit its reputation.

Support the Academy
of Culinary Arts

Contact Bill Speidel at: william.speidel@iup.edu
724-357-2324

Make an immediate gift online to the Academy of Culinary Arts (fund 5271).

Wutsch with students

Chef Albert Wutsch, center, discussed cooking with herbs with Academy of Culinary Arts students, from left, Diamoni White, of Philadelphia; Courtney Robison, of Industry; Chase Platt, of Hughesville; and Dong Hwan Choi, of Daegu City, South Korea.

 

Scholarships

Each student must purchase a supply packet. The academy purchases the supplies at cost, so the student is obligated for just $1,500.

“It’s a steal,” Wutsch said of the packets, which contain knives, tools, uniforms, and books that fully equip students, who pay just around $7,900 per semester for instruction costs and fees. Wutsch is seeking benefactors who will cover the cost of supply packets as a form of scholarship award.

New Building

All culinary students take computer and math classes and access the library at nearby IUP Punxsutawney on Winslow Street—an arrangement Wutsch likes. Culinary Arts students take classes on Gilpin Street, while the Baking and Pastry Arts students spend their time in the Fairman Centre, a new facility a few blocks away on Findley Street. Wutsch said the differences between the instructional facilities at Fairman, which was designed in consultation with the academy chefs, and those in the main academy facility, are dramatic.

“If I do a demonstration [in the Gilpin Street facility], I have my back to the students—they can’t hear me or see how I’m doing something. Our kitchens were not designed for instruction,” he said.

While he would like to increase the enrollment in the Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry Arts programs just slightly, he and his colleagues would like to venture into continuing education and in-service programs for secondary teachers that could provide more revenue and strengthen ties with area high schools. A new building would help to make that possible.

The current facility also lacks storage space, interfering with purchasing food and other supplies.

Equipment

With the number of dishes students prepare each day, tools and equipment take a beating. Wutsch said the academy has an immediate need for replacements, since the equipment at the Gilpin Street facility is now 20 years old. He would like to equip his stations with high-quality commercial brands, such as All-Clad, KitchenAid, or Hobart.

“Commercial equipment lasts a long time, but it costs a lot,” Wutsch said. “One pan might cost more than $100, and we’d need eight dozen” to be fully equipped. He specified the need for eight new tabletop mixers for the Gilpin Street facility at a cost of more than $500 apiece and a dozen food processors at $700 apiece. Wutsch also needs to purchase six induction cooktops—portable burners that cook with no flame—at a cost of $700 each.

Wutsch said the Gilpin Street facility has 18 refrigeration units, and he replaces one a year on an 18-year cycle. With thousands of dollars in food stored in the facility weekly, he can’t afford to be without. And, he now needs to replace a dishwasher, which is roughly an $8,000 expense.

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