With restaurant wages increasing due to staff shortages, interest in veganism climbing due to environmental and climate concerns, and the whitest of white-tablecloth restaurants (NYC’s Eleven Madison Park) going entirely plant-based, the time seems ripe for anyone interested in vegan cooking to bust a big move. Enter Vegan Fusion Culinary Academy, an exclusively vegan Boulder cooking school that’s now accepting applications for its inaugural Aspiring Chef diploma program that launches August 16.
Chef and school director Mark Reinfeld says the 16-week program starts with the basics—classic culinary techniques like braising and searing—before advancing to techniques specific vegan and raw cuisine. Students will learn how to make vegan cheeses and milks as well as meat analogues like seitan, tofu, and tempeh. (The course also covers dehydration and fermentation, which, while trendy, are not unique to plant-based cooking.) The third and final module focuses on global cuisine. The Aspiring Chef program is “open to everyone,” says Reinfeld, noting professional cooking experience isn’t required. “We’re looking for the passion….We seek to mentor students, to take them where they want to go.”
Classes run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and typically include an hour of lecture time. The rest of the school day is hands-on, either in the sparkling professional kitchen (Vegan Fusion just opened in March 2021 and Reinfeld notes it’s a “brand-new buildout with brand-new equipment, very modern”) or off-site, at animal sanctuaries and local farms. The program also includes an eight-part food as medicine series taught by naturopathic doctor Ashley Boudet, and business courses on topics like bringing plant-based products to market, as well as different culinary career paths such as catering, food trucking, private cheffing and more. Graduates will walk away with a Diploma of Vegan Culinary Arts. And, Reinfeld notes, “They’ll be extremely comfortable in a professional kitchen.”
At $14,975, that diploma requires a chunk of change, but formal culinary education has never been cheap. Boulder’s Escoffier School of Culinary Arts charges nearly $20,000 for its 30-week plant-based cuisine diploma, and one academic year (eight months) at Johnson & Wales University will run you over $35,000—more than double the cost of Vegan Fusion’s four-month program.
Vegan Fusion’s job placement program is currently in development, says Reinfeld; while it’s being built out, it’s still casual. (Operators looking for vegan chefs, take note!)
Vegan Fusion doesn’t only cater to emerging chefs: Reinfeld recommends non-vegan restaurants not discount plant-based dishes when it comes to menus. He points to research by the Plant Based Foods Association on the growth of vegan products in retail settings, and notes that “word spreads pretty fast” among plant-based eaters. “Having at least one or two options that aren’t a baked potato or lettuce goes a long way,” he says, “and if you advertises that on your Yelp profile, vegans will seek you out.” His advice: Start where you’re at. Having vegan ingredients like Just Egg (an egg substitute), non-dairy milk, or Earth Balance butter on hand are easy adjustments.
For restaurants looking to up their plant-based program and pros who already have time on the line, Vegan Fusion also offers Culinary Pro classes: customized virtual training for industry folks who have “been around the block in the culinary world” but aren’t as familiar with vegan cooking. The school is also targeting home cooks with weekend and week-long introductory, dessert, and world cuisine classes. “This is trending in every way you can look at how a trend trends,” says Reinfeld.
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