Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I Went to Culinary School....

...or Why Tante Marie's is the Best!

I went to culinary school in 1998. I'd worked a 'real job' for almost eight years and had one of those life changing experiences when I took a vacation in Italy. I was sitting in Florence, Poggibonsi to be exact, watching Giuliano Bugialli teach our class to make a panzanella salad. I thought to myself, 'hey, he's making money teaching people how to cook-that is what I want to do.' I lasted three more months in my job before I'd gotten the itch so bad I had to quit. I was spending all my free time looking into different culinary programs. Most professional cooking schools are two year programs through vocational schools. There are associate degrees and even BA programs. I'd been to college, worked a lot, and knew I was looking for a school where I'd cook every day and the food would be the primary focus. I knew I didn't want to open a restaurant or catering business so, taking extra classes for these things seemed to be a waste of time.

I was in Seattle when I started looking for a school and fate landed me at 271 Francisco Street. I'd heard about the school from a woman who'd attended the pastry program. She was selling internet advertising and our professional paths happened to have crossed at the perfect time. We were having lunch and she, unprompted, was raving about the program she'd just finished at Tante Marie's. The professional pastry program is a part time program that meets 14 days a month for six months, in the evenings and on weekends. She was loving every minute of it and told me the school also had a full time, six month professional course. I looked into it further and it sounded perfect. I applied, got in, and a few months later moved to San Francisco with my then boyfriend/now husband.

The class is unique. I'd equate the program to an artisinal baker while some of the larger more vocational programs tend to be like mass produced supermarket bread. There are no more than 14 to a class so over the six month program the teachers can give each person hours of 1:1 attention. You cook 90% of the time and incorporate both savory cooking and baking into every single week. The program builds on itself so skills learned the first two weeks are developed over the remaining months. There is not one isolated class on fish and another on bread. You learn it all and each week you work on creating menus using all the skills you've acquired to date.

My teacher was a rock star-an amazing woman named Catherine Pantsios who is a legend at Tante Marie's. She left the school several years ago and they are incredibly lucky to have found another amazing instructor. Frances Wilson has over 20 years of culinary experiences, including 10 years at Lalime's in Berkeley. Her students love her and it is easy to see why.

I am unique in that I graduated and shortly afterward took a job at Tante Marie's as a teacher. If that's not a testament to how highly I think of the school, I don't know what is. I've been there for 10+ years and I know there is no where like it around. I feel so fortunate to be a graduate of the program. The owner, Mary Risley, has high standards for her students and teachers. Whether you're a professional student or one who comes and takes a class on the weekend or at night, you know that the quality is very high.

If you eat around San Francisco, you've probably tasted the food of some of the talented graduates. Have you tried the food at Mamacita, Blue Barn, Delfina, Da Flora, Insalatas, Kokkari, Farallon, Chez Panisse or New York's Babbo? If you have, you know how good these graduates cook. Over the years students have manned (or womanned) the stoves at all of these places and many, many more.

This year the school celebrates its 30th Anniversary! There will be a big block party on April 26th in front of the school at 271 Francisco Street. If you're in the hood between 11-3, I hope to see you there. If you haven't taken a class at Tante Marie's, you'll see what a special place it is.


-David (Basics I, II and III alum) said...

Gosh, Jodi, you almost convinced me to quit my job and sign up for the course! As it is, I'll try to make it to the block party.

catering programs said...

There are lots of culinary institutes and schools available in country that provides certified catering programs. Catering programs are designed to prepare a student for a challenging career in professional catering. Culinary education provide top grade, hands on experience and depth knowledge about cooking to their students.

Tiffany said...

Your post inspired me. I wanted to go to Tante Marie when I was living SF but at that point in time, I couldn't..I now live in London and working as a restaurant specialist..however I still dream of teaching cooking..I cook every night and I don't want to be a chef in a big restaurant but I'd really want to do something with my you think you can give me some tips on how I can start 'teach' cooking? I don't have any qualification..but I came from a family of mother tried to keep me away from the culinary field all of her life but..I think it's in my genes..I don't suppose Tante Marie has any sister schools in London? I'd love to hear from you! Please email me at Thank you. Tiffany

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