Rick Smilow is optimistic about the future of the restaurant industry after the Covid-19 pandemic. As President and CEO of the Institute of Culinary Education, he also gives thousands of enthusiastic students hoping to enter the business world a reason to be optimistic.
With campuses in New York and Los Angeles, the Culinary Education Institute (ICE) is one of the largest culinary schools in the country, offering intensive 8 to 13 month diploma programs in Culinary Arts, Pastry and Baking Arts, Health Supportive Culinary Arts, Restaurant and Kitchen Management, and Hospitality and Hospitality Management. ‘hotel. In addition, ICE offers a wide selection of recreational courses for cooking enthusiasts who want to hone their skills.
As the end of the pandemic nears, Smilow wants to assure those considering a career in the culinary arts that a year of closed doors and late-night takeout shouldn’t hold back their plans from entering the field. In fact, it might even be the perfect time for prospective cooking students to take the plunge and enroll.
Smilow notes: “If you start your vocational training now, the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror when you enter the workforce. ”
As for the job search in today’s world, Smilow recommends casting a wide net. Last fall, when the school reopened for hands-on classes, her team worried that students would struggle to find day schools in the area – a requirement with most of ICE’s career programs. Soon they discovered that the wider New York market, including the tri-state suburbs, was still able to absorb externals and ICE alumni, even in the depths of a devastating pandemic. .
The key to finding work, according to Smilow, has been adjusting expectations. A student may not be able to land a job at a large Manhattan fine dining restaurant that is temporarily closed due to a lack of business and tourist customers. But there may be openings in smaller venues closer to home that could prove to be equally valuable learning opportunities for students looking to gain experience.
For those who have already taken the plunge, Smilow thinks the past year has been an invaluable crash course in the most important tool a culinary hopeful can have: flexibility.
“Take-out meals, home meal kits, selling special supplies, social media campaigns – all of these were potentially good tactics for restaurants before the pandemic, and last year showed that flexibility and creativity can be the key to survival, ”he says.
While at ICE, Smilow was no stranger to guiding students through tough times. Since joining the school in 1995, Smilow has led ICE through 26 years of twists and turns and has consistently been successful in advancing the institutional growth of the school.
This has been especially true over the past six years. In 2015, Smilow expanded and moved to a 74,000 square foot facility at Brookfield Place in Manhattan. In 2018, the school’s first out-of-state campus opened in Pasadena, California, on the site of former Le Cordon Bleu. In 2019, ICE signed a licensing agreement with the Natural Gourmet Institute which closed its doors and began offering its herbal degree program. And in 2020, ICE licensed the New York-based International Culinary Center, formerly known as the French Culinary Institute.
Beyond his work with ICE, Smilow remains committed to giving newcomers a head start in the business, publishing his book Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food in 2010. And in 2011, he was recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Association of Kitchen Professionals.
As vaccines continue to roll out and restrictions on meals are lifted, Smilow is confident independent restaurants will weather the storm and enter a golden age of catering and culinary development. He notes that the recently adopted $ 28 billion Restaurant Relief Fund will really help thousands of operators “come to the other side.” And on the public side, “the 2020 bans have led us to find out why we love restaurants, why we need restaurants, why we go out,” Smilow added. “If restaurants only existed for food, they wouldn’t exist.
Students entering ICE programs can expect to receive the same education as their predecessors before the pandemic. “COVID-19 has not changed the fundamentals of a career path,” says Smilow. “For a long and promising culinary career, it has proven to be useful to acquire the basic knowledge and the confidence that comes from studying at a top cooking school. “