Popular television cooking shows such as "Iron Chef," "Emeril Live," "Top Chef" and, dare we mention, "Hell's Kitchen," have brought the interest in culinary careers to a boil.
To help meet demand locally, Indiana Business College opened a Chef's Academy downtown nearly two years ago. Now, Ivy Tech Community College is expanding its existing program by building a culinary school in Indianapolis at the Gene B. Glick Junior Achievement Education Center on North Keystone Avenue.
Enrollment in Ivy Tech's two-year culinary arts program has doubled to 500 students within the past five years, prompting the need for additional space, said Jeff Bricker, chairman of the college's hospitality administration program.
"What's happened is, this overall interest that partly has been fueled by The Food Network," he said. "It's almost brought celebrity status for chefs."
There seems to be little danger of oversaturation. Indiana restaurant sales increased to $8.3 billion last year, and National Restaurant Association growth projections call for the Indiana's restaurant industry to add 43,000 jobs by 2017-a 12.6-percent increase.
Ivy Tech's teaching kitchens at its main campus at 50 W. Fall Creek Parkway in Indianapolis are operating at capacity, with students rotating in and out weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Two years ago, the school even added a Saturday class.
But if plans go off without a hitch, aspiring chefs will be preparing their dishes from much roomier digs by January 2010. The Glick Fund, part of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, has provided the initial ingredients in the form of a $3 million matching gift. Ivy Tech, Junior Achievement of Central Indiana and the Experiential Learning and Entrepreneurship Foundation Inc. are partners on the project.
The funds are earmarked, with $2 million going toward construction and $1 million for kitchen equipment. Total cost of the project is estimated at $7 million.
Once finished, the building will feature 24,000 square feet of space and multiple kitchens and prep rooms that ultimately should accommodate more than 1,000 students at different times. In contrast, just 2,500 square feet of space and two kitchens are available on campus.
With the additional room, Ivy Tech expects to introduce an expanded schedule, so students enrolled in both the culinary and baking and pastry arts programs have the option of completing coursework in as little as 18 months instead of two years.
Tuition for a two-year culinary degree at the school runs about $7,000.
Ivy Tech chose to build at the JA Center after considering a culinary campus as part of the City Market overhaul. The expense of renting space far outweighed what the school could afford, though, said Hank Dunn, chancellor of Ivy Tech's central Indiana campus.
"The opportunity to have those [Glick] funds and expand the program were too good to pass up," he said.
JA plans to use the space as well, to host culinary camps for kids. The additional space also will allow Ivy Tech to offer noncredit courses to the public.
Cooking careers abound
Meanwhile, less than two years after its November 2006 launch, IBC's Chef's Academy is expanding its program, too. The school is building a fourth kitchen and adding a hotel restaurant management program, in which students can earn a two- or four-year degree, that starts Sept. 29.
The number of classes has grown from three to 12. Students attend sessions full time for 18 months at times ranging from 6:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. four days a week.
Enrollment has climbed to 250, and should top 300 with the addition of the hotel restaurant management program, said Tony Hanslits, the college's director of culinary education. Tuition for the program, which boasts 100-percent placement, is $40,000.
Hanslits is a veteran local chef who gained acclaim for his work at gone-butnot-forgotten eateries such as Peter's Restaurant, Something Different and his own Tavoli di Tosa.
"Most students want to be a chef," Hanslits said, "but there are so many avenues in culinary right now."
Indeed, employing roughly 13.1 million people, the restaurant industry trails only government as the nation's largest employer. It is expected to add 2 million jobs within the next decade, according to the National Restaurant Association.
In Indiana, 10 percent of employed Hoosiers are employed in some form of food services.
It's not just youngsters who are pursuing jobs in the restaurant industry. Leaders of both schools say their classrooms contain seasoned professionals who are pursuing a chef's certificate as a second career.
Besides hotels, resorts and country clubs, the options extend to high-end chain restaurants to food labs and even hospitals. Forget the beef broth, more hospitals are featuring menu items and hiring more chefs than dietitians, Hanslits said.
Pay is decent, too. Experienced chefs in Indiana make $42,000 to $58,000, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Not all glitz and glam
Indianapolis restaurants have experienced steady growth for a decade. In 1997, the metropolitan area was home to 2,195 restaurants. The number now tops 3,100. A revitalized downtown, due in part to Circle Centre mall, and a general trend in the frequency of dining out are driving the growth.
One of the newer downtown establishments is the Conrad Indianapolis' Vitesse, where Michelle Matiya is executive chef. The nearly 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry has mixed feelings about food's newfound glory.
On one hand, the growth of culinary arts programs gives aspiring chefs more opportunities to receive formal training, she said. For several years, Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Culinary Institute of America were among the few options.
Twenty percent of fine-dining establishments surveyed by the restaurant association said they employ more credentialed workers than they did two years ago.
Yet, Matiya fears television shows are misleading the public by portraying the restaurant profession in a false light, conveniently omitting the long hours and weekends typically required of head chefs.
"While your family is out enjoying events," she said, "you're usually the one hosting the events."
Even so, Matiya acknowledged rubbing elbows with some interesting folks, including Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton while they campaigned in Indiana earlier this year for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"No matter who they are," she said, "they always want to meet the chef."