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The Next Wave of Culinary Stars

by Jeff Flynt

Fox Valley Technical College is home to Wisconsin's only culinary theatre. I've spent time examining the brand new part of the school's Culinary and Hospitality program.

I recently spoke with the department chair and guru of all things culinary Chef Jeff IgelHe talked to me about the current state of the industry both inside the walls of FVTC, but also out in the Fox Valley.

The Tech has about 300 students currently enrolled in the program, which has been at or near capacity for about the last decade.

Having been through a culinary school program, I felt it was necessary to ask whether he believes it's important a student have some experience before enrolling.

"Yes, we really prefer that, but it is very difficult to require it," says Igel, adding they get both students with and without industry experience. "Sometimes the experience they have is smitten with bad habits."

Chef Igel says that the explosion in TV shows tied to the industry has really encouraged people to give culinary school and the profession a try.

I asked about a style or forms of cooking students tend to gravitate towards.

"Most of our learners want to experience it all, with heavy emphasis on ethnic preparations," says Igel.

Are there any trends in the industry which is reflected in your curriculum?

"The trends definitely include local, sustainable and healthy.  To a lesser extend organic, all-natural and portion control," Igel says.

Upon graduation, do students look to remain in the region or branch out to other parts of the country?

"The majority tends to stay local, but many do have aspirations of premium re-locations," Igel says.

As for the future of restaurants in and around the Fox Valley, Chef Igel is bullish on what's coming down the pike.

"I feel we have hit a saturation point with the quantity of dining establishments, but I believe we are in the infancy of a surge of higher quality operations, driven by customer demand . . . . The status-quo will be out very soon," says Igel.

Having visited the campus and seen firsthand the work that's being done inside the program, I have no doubts as to the great future and talent of chefs who graduate from Fox Valley Tech.