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3 Questions with Chef Ken Rubin

3 Questions: With the top chef at Portland's new culinary school

By Leslie Cole, The Oregonian
February 23, 2010, 12:00AM
A short chat about what's cooking

Ken Rubin, chef director at the newly opened International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Portland, has packed a lot into his 34 years, including a master's degree in food anthropology; stints as a working chef, artisan goat-cheese maker and food critic; and six-plus years with Le Cordon Bleu Schools North America. But you'd expect that from a guy who used to go to summer camp with cookbooks instead of comic books and who, at age 13, catered his own bar mitzvah. As Portland's newest professional cooking school approaches its first anniversary, we sat down to learn more about Rubin and his plans.

Q: Portland has two other culinary schools. What's different about yours?

A: We're accredited as an institution through the same body that accredits all the major universities and schools, places like Reed College and Portland State and OSU. (The city's other culinary schools are nationally accredited through groups that typically work with technical and trade schools.) That means we're required to have a more intensive mix of general education studies -- liberal arts studies, basically -- and we're bound by a different set of rules that govern how we operate, what faculty credentials we have to have in place, things like that.

So when a student comes to us and wants to get an associate's degree and go on to PSU and get a bachelor's in nutrition, or get a bachelor's here and go to OSU and get a master's degree, they have a much easier time moving between this school and those other worlds.

We're also different in that we're the only culinary school in the country to offer an academic minor in sustainability.

Q: You recently hired chef Cory Schreiber to teach and develop a curriculum on sustainable culinary practices. Why the focus on sustainability, and what does that look like?

A: The whole dialog about sustainability and being ecologically and socially conscious is long overdue in culinary arts. There are certainly some schools that have addressed the issue in some ways -- schools that have a student-run restaurant that buys food locally, for instance -- but I felt like it was really important to put some real coursework behind this idea. The students who are tracked into the sustainability minor get a whole set of courses that address the science, the philosophy, the history and the economics of the sustainability question.

Beyond that, we're infusing the concept of sustainability into the entire program. Cory's teaching a class in sustainable purchasing and controlling costs. It's more about training students to walk through and understand how complicated and dynamic sustainability is, (rather) than coming up with "the answer."

Q: Cooking schools have taken a bit of a beating recently, being criticized for the high cost of a degree and inflated expectations about job prospects. Are the criticisms valid? What is your school doing to address those concerns?

A: I think those criticisms are valid not just of culinary education but education in general. I think where a lot of culinary schools have gotten in trouble is this hyper-focus on this technical training model, where I think they were overly narrow in the sorts of things you'd expect from someone when they get out of school. I don't want anyone going into this thinking you graduate and you're a chef, or you graduate and you've got the skills to own your own business.

Students need to know that it's really dependent on who they are as a person, their performance and motivation, and how good they are at all the non-cooking things. That's what will really make them a professional.

-- Leslie Cole

You can read the article online HERE

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