Nov. 29, 2022

A Look at Culinary School Today with Johnson & Wales University Chef Instructor Russ Zito

A Look at Culinary School Today with Johnson & Wales University Chef Instructor Russ Zito

On this week's episode, we have chef Russ Zito. Russ has been a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University for 26 years. You might have heard our "What is a Chef" mini-episode.

Chef Zito was one of my instructors and my senior advisor when I was a student at Johnson & Wales University. But a lot has changed since I graduated in 1998. I wanted to find out how the school, and the curriculum, have changed (or stayed the same) since I've been gone. He talks about the newer courses and classes dealing with things like sustainability, dietetics, and entrepreneurship. They even have a garden there now. I asked his opinion about who was a good fit for culinary school. We also talked about his thoughts on community college as opposed to a top-tier culinary university.

If you're a current or former culinary student, or are thinking about going to culinary school, this is the episode for you. If anyone has questions they want to ask me directly, feel free to reach out to me at chefswithoutrestaurants@gmail.com.

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Transcript
Chris Spear:

Is culinary school worth it? I get asked this question all the time? And my answer is, maybe it's really personal. And I can't say that there's a one size fits all answer to this question. So people also ask me, would you go back and do it again? And to that? My answer is, I'm still not sure I'm kind of torn. On today's podcast, I have culinary instructor, Russ Zito from Johnson and Wales University. And we're going to talk about those things and a whole lot more. So if you are a culinary school student, have been to culinary school or just want to kind of learn more about it. This episode is for you. My name is Chris spear. And I'm the host of Chefs Without Restaurants, the program where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting. So if you've listened to the show before, you might know that I went to Johnson and Wales University, I got a four year bachelor's degree in culinary arts up in Providence, Rhode Island. The past few years on this podcast, culinary school is something we've talked a lot about. We've had some solo episodes titled should you go to culinary school. And it's a topic that keeps coming up again and again. Depending on who you speak to people are on both sides of the fence about whether you should go whether it's worth it or not. Whether you should go to a community college or spend the money to go to a top tier school like Johnson and Wales or the Culinary Institute of America. I will tell you we're not going to settle that debate. There is no settling because it's a very personal decision. But I've talked to a lot of guests on the show and none of them have ever been culinary instructors themselves until today. Being a Johnson and Wales alum. I thought it'd be great to go back to the school and find one of my favorite instructors. So today I have Chef Ross Zito, I had Russ way back when I was in school, which was in like the year 9697 98. He was actually my senior advisor who had to sign off on my externship project, which was my final semester in school. So thankfully, he passed me and I was able to graduate. super appreciative of that. Thanks Jeff Seto. So like I said, I've talked to a lot of people about their opinions on whether or not you should go to culinary school, but I really wanted to have an instructor on so I want to have Chef Zito on to talk about what Johnson Wales looks like today and some of the things that have changed. I haven't been in culinary school in more than 20 years. And you know, it's not really even fair for me to talk about the state of culinary instruction today. You know, I go back and think about the things that I was doing, like show floor and some of those things that might be kind of outdated. So I wanted to know, what are you doing? Are you doing new things like fermentation? You know, we studied a lot of Eurocentric cuisines, obviously, French, Italian, all that. But is there any exposure to Filipino food or Ethiopian food. So I wanted to get chef Zito on and kind of find out what they're doing at Johnson and Wales. These days. Chefs Edo came to Johnson and Wales by way of the Coast Guard, he was in the Coast Guard. And as many of you know, there's some great education programs when you get out of the military. So after attending Johnson, Wales as a student, he stayed on went through their fellow and MDP program, which is a management development program, and then eventually became a chef instructor there. You know, it was really cool to hear about some of the things they're doing now, besides just the culinary and baking programs. They have dietetics programs, sustainability programs, entrepreneurship programs, it's so much more than just a culinary school. It was really neat to hear things like gardening chefs, Ido has a garden that he gets to attend with students. That's so awesome. I kinda wish I could go back to culinary school to do it all over again. But kind of not really either. So if you want to get an overall look at culinary school, and you know, maybe you're someone on the fence, trying to decide if you want to go or not, I think this is a good episode to listen to. And feel free to reach out to me personally, because I've been there I could talk you through some of it give you my opinions. And again, there's days where I think yeah, I'm so glad I went and to be honest, there's days where I'm like, I don't know if it was worth it. I'm still kind of torn. But you know, I'm at a place and I'm really happy in my life and everything worked out. So I am where I am. I actually enjoy talking to culinary students a lot. We have Frederick Community College here in Frederick. And I've been twice to talk to their students. And I tried to give them a realistic overview of my experiences, both in culinary school and in the field up through today. And if you're a culinary school professor and want to have me come speak to your students, I'd love to do that you can reach out to me, you can contact me at chefs without restaurants@gmail.com. And this is the part of the show where I talk about sponsors. This show is made possible by the generous support of our sponsors. If you go to chefs without restaurants.com, forward slash sponsors, you're gonna find all the info on our current sponsors, previous sponsors and affiliate partners, with the affiliate partners. All that means is those are products that I use and love and if you click on the links in my profile, I'm gonna get a small commission when you buy stuff. Right now they've had so many great sales with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. You know, it's a good time to go get 25% off spice ology, or whatever it is, but I'm most thankful for our podcast audio ad sponsors. So before this week's episode starts, you're going to hear from the United States personal chef Association. and me's. Please listen to those ads and then enjoy this show. Thanks so much and have a great week. Over the past 30 years, the world of the personal chef has grown in importance to fulfill those dining needs. While the pandemic certainly upended the restaurant experience, it allowed personal chefs to close that dining gap. Central to all of that is the United States personal chef Association, representing nearly 1000 chefs around the US and Canada. US PCA provides a strategic backbone to those chefs that includes liability insurance, training, communications, certification, and more. It's a reassurance to consumers that the chef coming into their home is prepared to offer them an experience with their meal. You SPCA provides training to become a personal chef through our preparatory membership. Looking to showcase your products or services to our chefs and their clients. partnership opportunities are available. Call Angela today at 1-800-995-2138 extension 705 or email her at a PR a t h e r at us pca.com for membership and partner info. Are you still keeping your recipes and Docs doing your costing and spreadsheets? Well, you should try mes the recipe tool designed for chefs by chefs founded by professional chef Josh Sharkey. Mes transforms your recipe content into a powerful digital format that lets you organize scale train and cost like never before. See why MES is loved by over 12,000 culinary professionals sign up for a free account today at get mes.com forward slash C WR that's gtmez.com forward slash C w r. And on a personal note, I've been using mes almost daily. I wish I had this tool years ago. The ability to quickly scale a recipe up or down or to search across all recipes for single ingredient like pumpkin. And if you really want to get an in depth breakdown, I had mes founder Josh Sharkey on the podcast a few months ago. That was episode 155, released in July of 2020. So go check it out to find out what Mises is all about. Hey, Chef, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

Russ Zito:

Absolutely glad to be here, Chris.

Chris Spear:

Man, it's been what are we figuring 26 years or so I had to in 1997 98 Apa Johnson?

Russ Zito:

Yeah, we're just we're just talking about that. I did see a couple of years back there at Drexel for the ability chef. Yeah, to Philly chef conference. That was great.

Chris Spear:

Well, I usually start the show by kind of talking about culinary backstory. So like, how did you get into food and cooking? Everyone's got their origin story? What brought you into the kitchen?

Russ Zito:

Most likely, Grandma, you know, how many times have you heard that? Quite a bit? Yeah. You know, and it's, it's, you know, ironic this year is really brought me back to that era. But yeah, my grandmother. Well, let's, let's start this way. I started some of my demos, my presentations saying that I grew up calling early challenged. And I say that only because my mother was born in Glasgow, Scotland. And I don't know if you know anything about Scottish cuisine, but haggis. Well, that's the national dish is a haggis, you know, it's what is it? It's a sheep's stomach stuff with all the organs from the cow and maybe some barley or oatmeal. actually want to try that though. Oh, actually, I've had some very good haggis and I've had some haggis. That was awful, officially. So I always start some of my demo saying yeah, I grew up calling me challenge my mother, my mother grew up making Minson ties, which was boiled ground beef with maybe an onion, and some salt, sometimes some black pepper and then you'll boil potatoes that were always over boiled. And literally it's ground beef boiled in water.

Chris Spear:

So no sound delight. No, no,

Russ Zito:

it was it was it was not delightful at all. But I died I have a plate full of it right now. You know, you think back about you know those memories that you know, maybe not so great on the food side but just being around the table. There's a lot of those food experiences that that get triggered by something to eat now that brings you way way back. But that's how I got into cooking was my grandmother would be out in the garden and yeah, I grew up in northern New Jersey not too far from you. I spent my summers even closer to you our little place called Long Beach Island out there in the Jersey Shore. And we had men and tomatoes and basil and all those things in the garden. We spend all day out there in the garden taking care of things and you know, we wouldn't have the little the little toilet bowl up front pair with flowers in it and that was that was like the jersey beach home kind of thing. You know, you pretended to be well. I'm not even gonna get into that. But you know who puts away your toilet bowl in front yard? Classy yo, where I'm coming from right? And we take that stuff inside and I'd be out in the dark. We had blue crab coming right out and uh you know, Barnegat bay there and you'll fish we'd be out fishing. Bring in sea bass and both fish and Flounder and Fluke during the summer in the all this great stuff and just remember being in the garden with her and coming in and we pick crab meat and we do all sorts of stuff and make soup with leftovers in the refrigerator and, and that's how I learned cooking. I didn't learn by classic technique I didn't learn by I learned by let's take what we have and go into the kitchen and we're going to, we're going to tip it in that little, I think she was best quick for the the foot batter. And she put a little paprika in there, give it some color and put you know, all those things had flavor. And she she had solid technique with shallow fry right there at the stove in the kitchen. I just remember going up in the morning, and you know, I'd be four 4:35am Nobody be awake. And I'd be out in a dark green and this little snapper blues, a little baby blue fish. And I'd have that thing clean and flowered. And then the pale a little salt and pepper and some nice hole butter. And I'd be eating it before anybody else in the house. And that's that's my earliest memories of cooking. And you know, it just progressed from there. Spent a lot of time on the water used to see all the guys in coastguard boats out there. And somehow I got into Coast Guard went to cook school with them. And through them I got sent to a little college school in Charleston, South Carolina. It was called Johnson and Wales college at the time. I remember going into the admissions office and they were putting stickers on the catalog said now a university. Now University and I'm like, Ah, it's kind of cool. Maybe people go here and Coast Guard paid for some of that. And, you know, the rest is history. You know, that brought me to the school and eventually made my way into the classroom. I went out into industry for a while I worked a family business, I started a food service parts division, I was very technologically oriented. So I was you know, I got into that side of the industry and came back as an adjunct faculty to the net food tech program. Remember the old C four program we used to have there?

Chris Spear:

Yeah, they don't do the C four program anymore. Is that right? Well, they not the way that they used to

Russ Zito:

in the new era. We can't use the term C and four together because apparently had to trigger but so we have the culinary Baccalaureate program now, which is a lot harder to say and takes a little bit longer. But yeah, so we do have a version of that classic four year culinary program. That executive chef says, you know, sous chef, kind of training program. But it's um it's yeah, it's called something else. Now it's called the corner backhoe bachelor's degree program. The four year culinary program, we avoid everything. Host A C and four together now.

Chris Spear:

What made you want to be a teacher because I think that takes a certain someone not everyone who can cook can teach. I mean by nature, I think a lot of people who are in leadership roles in the kitchens, you end up teaching, but it's very different teaching your line cooks how to cook, versus, you know, having 20 kids in a kitchen. So what why did you want to do that?

Russ Zito:

Every day in the kitchen, you're teaching whether you know it or not, right? You know, you're, you're showing somebody a technique showing somebody something to get to get the job done that day showing somebody that's going to, you know, that's going to help them improve their technique to make them, you know, give them the ability to do it faster, or better cleaner or winning, or whatever it is. And, you know, we always did that. I always thought teaching would be a great job for me when I get done with my time in industry and it was feeling the the aches and pains and I was getting older and my bones were weary and I'm like

Chris Spear:

you're still young though. I mean, you weren't like you make it sound like How old were you? I mean, you

Russ Zito:

were and that's why I was I was blown away. When I found my way into teaching that early in my life. I always thought that was something I come back to later on. So I went to Johnson Wales, I started in Charleston 1988 and midway through culinary school there I was still in the Coast Guard. I was doing a reserve weekends in my two months in the summer. I made two weeks in the summer. And I was in Charleston, South Carolina. So we had the Air Force Base share that the the airport there in Charleston, so I used to throw my uniform on the weekend. I found a military elf flight that left Charleston every Thursday afternoon, right after we got out of class. And I grew up to the Air Force Base and I jump on a Mac flight. And that Mac flight just happened to go through the Hampton Roads area, Virginia. So Norfolk it'll be one week and went to Oceana naval air station next week. And then that plane went over to rota Spain. And then it came back on Sunday afternoon, right when I had to go back to school that in Charleston, and I had a great bartending job up in Virginia Beach. Before I started school. My parents had left New jersey retired my stepdad retired from the post office, my mother, I don't think she ever worked per se she was always working something working it so they moved to Virginia Beach kind of semi retired. So I used to fly home every weekend. It was free flight while I was put my uniform on. I was Coast Guard Reserve at the time, so I probably was the first one to get bumped anywhere. But I had this great bartending job of Virginia Beach I flying over weekend. And I set up one night. And I see this advertisement comes on for Johnson and Wales University in Norfolk, Virginia, like, wait a minute, they're going to school in Charleston for almost nine months now. And these guys never told me. And they all knew I was going to Virginia and the weekends, never told me there was a campus in in the town right next door to where I was. So I transferred up to Norfolk. And then from there, I, you know, I got into the teaching assistant program, because they were willing to give me money to continue my school. And from there, we couldn't stay in in Norfolk, because they only had a two year program guaranteed one years of TA, and I had to transfer to Providence for my senior year. Got up there. I did my fellowship, and they're like, hey, get into the MDP program. Sure enough, I got an MDP. You know, I don't know if you remember the whole MDP it was a management development program.

Chris Spear:

I did. I never did any of that. But I did work study at Pine Street. So like, a place where everyone hung out. You know, I pulled the Thursday through Saturday night shifts there. You know, everyone would finish up their shifts or wherever they were working in come in for wings and beer till you know, one in the morning. Yeah, that's

Russ Zito:

it. We still have beer on campus. We've been tried campus for a long time.

Chris Spear:

Oh, that's Oh, no. Oh, not

Russ Zito:

necessarily that bad. We still have that educational liquor license. We brew beer.

Chris Spear:

I'll tell you even though the dorms were dry, I've seen otherwise.

Russ Zito:

We in South Hall. But um, yeah, so I found my way up to Providence. Probably not long before you came up there. I was there. 9192 I had a brief episode there where I get recalled for the first Gulf War and record your town shots uniforms. And five days later, when they found out it was full time student they sent me back to school, I was like, Who? And you know, so I got done there. And I transferred up to Providence for my my senior year, we had taken community college classes that were guaranteed transfer credits, that's the agreement that they had at the time. I did the MTP, I finished my master's degree in 94. And I, I, my father had helped me buy a computer to do my grad degree, write my master's thesis. And back then computers were like, I mean, they were like the size of this whole countertop here. And so I stopped to see my dad on the way out and said, Hey, look, this computer don't need it anymore. You know, and maybe you can use it in the office, my dad had a small machine shop business in northern New Jersey. So he had a rather older Secretary working there, she was still on the typewriter with five part carbon invoices, and they had all this paper all over the place. I'm like, you know, I can, I can streamline this a little bit and get some NCR forms and type the invoice the packing slip in the in the work order, all in one shot. And he's like, really ended up putting an accounting package in I did some things with them. And yo, like, five years later, still, they're blown off two job offers, and I stayed in the family business. And I started a food service parts division. And all of a sudden, we had 60 accounts, and I was doing like, you know, a quarter million dollars in extra sales a year over what he was doing before. And I just ended up staying there for five years. And I started you know, obviously in the foodservice parts division, I was getting into food equipment and a little more technology and the, you know, I was still in touch with the people at Johnson and Wales. And they had started that that that four year corner program, and they had a class called fruit technology and design. And oh my god, it is cool. You know, they asked me to come up and maybe consult on a class a little bit. And I had one of my old TAs, one of my old MDPs had a word for his ta was teaching the class and he was getting ready to leave. He took a job with one of our big equipment suppliers. He took a job with them, I ended up coming up and teaching his class as an adjunct professor, and won't behold I enjoyed it a lot. And I'm like, wow, teaching, you know, it's probably five years out of like master's degree at Johnson and Wales and I got in with some really great chefs. You know, all the guys that were up there was like, wow, I mean, 1000s of years of experience in one little school there. If you added all their years in the industry up and I learned a lot and I kept learning a lot working with them as a as a faculty member. Did some adjunct work eventually, Chef vn I don't remember Michelle VN. Yeah, absolutely. hired me on full time. We just lost him this past year. We've lost a lot of our great chefs over the years. Oh my god, Lipa, all these great chefs that you remember working with and having a class. You know, they're all at that age now. Anyway, yeah. So that's how I got back into teaching. It was a long road through all kinds of windy paths and, and but it was all through that network of chefs that have stayed in touch with over the years,

Chris Spear:

and you've been there like consistently since

Russ Zito:

20. 26 years, I'm in my 26 year. Wow. Yeah.

Chris Spear:

Well, it must be something you really enjoy. And

Russ Zito:

yeah, you have no idea. But it's changed. It's morphed a little bit in those 26 years. Yeah,

Chris Spear:

I want to hear a little bit about we oh, it's really interesting do? I do I'm really intrigued. But you know, it's one of these things we talked about on the podcast so often about whether you should go to culinary school or not. And that's a very personal choice, you know, it, it depends like, you can't have just a yes or no answer. But I do want to talk about some of those topics a little bit. Because it's such a hot topic. People always ask me, would you do it again? What do you recommend for me? I don't even know where to start. But I guess I would say like, Who do you think is a good candidate, especially to go to a top tier school like Johnson Wallace, there's all different levels. But who is this school best suited for? In your opinion? Well, I

Russ Zito:

mean, today, very much different from what it was, when you and I went through there, you know, back then it was still we were, we were training cooks, we were training, using classical based French cooking methodology and techniques. I mean, right back to August of scoffing himself, you know, that was, that was the basis the Bible. And that's, that's what we taught. And although that's still the foundation, for a lot of what we do today, our students is very different. Back then we were training cooks, you got done, if you got a job working on the line, if not, you're working the line, while you're in the restaurant, we didn't have class up Fridays, for that very specific reason. On the weekends, you take what you learn in the classroom, in the week, you go out, you get a job with with a local restaurant, and you work Friday, Saturday and Sunday in that restaurant. And then you come back on Monday, and you do some more technique, and the curriculum was designed that way that's still to this day, we have no Friday labs. And it's crazy, because you've hit that $52 million culinary center there with nobody in and on Fridays, you know, sometimes we do some extra classes and things like that, but it's phenomenal. But um, you know, back then we were training cooks today. And I get students that are from every walk of life, and have plans to go in every part of the industry, even some parts unknown to even you and I today. You know, two years ago, we started a sustainable food systems program 26 years ago, sustainable was get your button the kitchen and get the food out, because we have a deadline to meet and let's get it done. And today, it's very, very different, you know, you got those, those major pillars of resource recovery, and, you know, energy conservation and water conservation and being sure that what we're doing is not harming anybody or harming the environment, and that we're able to keep the business open and that we're working on, you know, hyperlocal food products and that we're, you know, hiring equally in your cooking for equality. And, I mean, it's so many things that we have to look at today that you didn't think about 26 years ago. And

Chris Spear:

are those coming into like an associate's degree program? Like do you touch on those kinds of bigger issues? Or is that a bachelor

Russ Zito:

four year program and sustainable food systems. So we have a full four year program in applied dietetics. And nutrition, we have a full four year program and in product research and development, a full four year program in yo spa chef healthy cooking slash healthy cuisine. And that's not to mention any of the programs that are in our hospitality, you know, college as well, plus that four year culinary program, which is more of an entrepreneurial type thing. You know, we do fast casual restaurants, we do a little more fine dining restaurants, we attack all those different spokes. But all those students have one thing in common, well, maybe two, because we also have the patient program, they all start in that first common freshman year of core culinary cooking concepts, you know, any any student in those two programs, or those two first year programs can branch into any one of those baccalaureate programs. But when you get somebody that comes in, and they want to be applied dietetics and nutritionist and they want to get their registered dietetics certification and licensure and all that stuff. They're looking at that freshman year very differently from somebody who wants to own their own restaurant, or somebody that wants to get into product research and development, or somebody that wants to get into owning and running their own chain of food trucks or whatever it is. So we have this wide variety of students that come into the program that which is very different from what we had 26 years ago, because everybody was going to be a cook

Chris Spear:

up. Yeah, I only met my wife because she went to Johnson Wales to be a dietitian, she actually would have been the first graduating and she ended up not doing it there. So she was there and got her associates and culinary with a plan to stay for two more years, but I don't think she quite was ready to make that commitment to be a dietitian. And it cost so much money and I think there's some skepticism about like being the first graduating class like Well, how's the curriculum and would it even be, they couldn't even tell if it was gonna be accredited? You know, so she's like, I'm just gonna bounce after two years of culinary but she ultimately went back Got her Bachelor's in dietetics at another university, which is how we ended up in the Philadelphia area. How have the culinary courses changed to kind of keep with the times like I think about courses like Garma J, were you doing things like show floor and stuff that just seemed kind of like outdated to me. And then you know, I go to the Phyllis chef conference and they have classes on fermentation where the kids were making like Koji, made charcuterie, and kombucha like how has the culinary program at Johnson and Wales evolved to keep with those times? Well, I

Russ Zito:

can tell you that we still had some of those old time chefs that did that Garma J program. And again, there's always those foundations and classical cooking. And, I mean, so far, I haven't seen that and a hell of a long time. But, you know, the New York Food Show, they're still putting it on display at the Javits Center with your foods presented cold and you still got the classic,

Chris Spear:

that's a whole different style of cooking, like the whole ACF, like Old Country Club, guys, you know, people still do that. And some of it looks, you know, acoustic or that stuff looks really cool. But you know, what percentage of people really are going to be focusing on that kind? Well,

Russ Zito:

it's that percentage of people and that's pretty much it at this point, you know, let's see, get one of those classic clubs are you going to cruise ship are they still doing that kind of that old style, big, big centerpiece, ice carving buffet kind of thing. And there's they're very few and far between. But today, I can tell you, we've taken out to a little more modern approach where we're doing little more of those canopies slash tapa slash Cecchetti kind of presentations with the small plates and how a lot of restaurants are doing those today, using those classic techniques and still doing the patties, and maybe some of the terrains and some of the force meats and really have upgraded that God monta specifically that program to what we would call like an advanced buffet catering type class today, where you'll they'll learn to make force meats, but we'll make a force meat in a pate, we'll make a force meat in the terrain, we'll even make a force meat and put it into a sausage casing, and present it three different ways. Same flavor profile, same grind, same process, but three separate applications that can be used to present a buffet platter or put on a small plate or put it into a canopy or put into a breeze or a stew or something else. So it comes very flexible, and a lot more versatile.

Chris Spear:

And people still love Charcuterie Charcuterie is still big like in restaurants, you know, and it's such a skill, I guess it's just like modernizing how it's going to be presented. It's

Russ Zito:

it's more about the presentation and a portion size and the way that is presented and pairing it up with different pickled vegetables and things that we do and a little bit of the, maybe a housemaid mustard as opposed to, you know, pulling a whole grain out at a storeroom or something and you know, doing some some finer crackers and little details that go along with that. And then obviously getting a nice cheese and, and pulling it all together and turn it into into a highly sellable program in the restaurant and understanding the costing of it and apportioning of it. So that's that's where that guy was a class has come to today, it's very, you know, moderately applicable to any restaurant in the way that we grew up together.

Chris Spear:

And if you change the array of cuisines that are covered, because, you know, it was always very classical. And I'd say Eurocentric, you know, you're definitely doing French and Italian and German and all that. But now when you think about like people are really into Ethiopian food, or, you know, Russian cuisine or Filipino, like, has the has the curriculum evolved to kind of incorporate more of that stuff?

Russ Zito:

Absolutely. It's hard to and although the techniques are still classically based, you know, you remember back then we had classes like traditional European peon cuisine, that was the breezing. And it's doing all the classes are based on those classic French sauces, the Bishopville, and the Espanol and the holidays. And, and now we have classes like well, in the interim, we had something called Global ala carte, where we got a little more and then we went into, you know, different processes where we looked at 15 days, he looked at 15, different international cuisines. Whereas once it was classical French, we went from classical French to classical, French and Italian. Now we're covering everywhere from South and Central America, to North America, to the southeast, to the Middle East and everywhere in between.

Chris Spear:

And it's such a brief overview. I mean, there's no way you can get any kind of comprehensive education on that I you know, we had continental cuisine for nine days, like whatever the hell that means. And it's really funny because the one thing that stood out as I remember my practical was I had to make Sauerbraten, which I had never heard of, and I, you know, usually had like one day lead time on your practicals but they gave us three because I had to marinate and it was the worst grade I ever gotten impractical because it was quote, unquote, not sour enough. I think that was chef for Ruby like, like going way back into my mind. But that was one of those dishes that I never made again until I moved to like Pennsylvania. Ah, it's so funny. It's become one of my favorite dishes. But I thought, there's no way in the world I'm ever going to make this thing again, like, This is crazy. Why are we learning this? Yeah. But you know, you just had like one day of like German cooking, and I learned like one dish. So you're not ever really getting an in depth of anything. Even when you have a course that zeroes in on one cuisine, like 99 Day labs, like you're just not going to be able to tackle that. So I think is really good to get an overview. But you know, what I tell people is what you think you want to do. When you go to culinary, like you don't know, you know, I was 18 years old, and I graduated when I was 22. And what you thought, what I thought I was gonna do is not even close to what I'm doing and what I was interested in the classes, like nutrition, I was like, What's a nutrient you know, like, they made you take it. And then you know, I became a vegetarian for a number of years, and was really interested in healthy cooking, and

Russ Zito:

just the butchery and all of the things that you experienced as you're going through college going, maybe getting involved with a club, or you'll do an event with a fraternity where you did some some good and help. You know, it didn't matter what it was, when you came to college school, you're like, and this is not what I thought I was going to be doing. And when you get done three, four years later, you know, summer, students take five or six years to get through there, you get introduced to so many more aspects of the industry that you didn't know existed. And that was back then just imagine today. I mean, we have students in this sustainable food system program that are going to have job titles when a graduate in three or four years that don't even exist today, who understood what a supply chain specialist was, in the food industry anyway, just a few years back or, or a sustainability officer, you'll meet all these fast food restaurants have these, you know, sustainability officers now, what do they do? Well, they make the business more sustainable by looking at their energy use and their resource use and how they handle the waste. And I mean, nobody thought of that stuff back then. Or if you did, it was just ancillary to the job that took place every day. I mean, who had compost buckets in the kitchens 20 years ago,

Chris Spear:

actually, where I did my internship we did which was the first time its first and only time I ever saw that because I was out in Minneapolis and they you know that stuff was going back to the farms actually. So I don't know if you consider our compost buckets or like,

Russ Zito:

you guys were called piggy buckets because all ours go to the Johnson pig farm now. Yeah, we

Chris Spear:

had to scrape into bins there. But yeah, yeah.

Russ Zito:

So let me let me throw this at you since since we started to sustainable food systems for when I'm teaching classes called growing for the menu, cooking from the farm stand. These are classes that never existed back then. I'm teaching, I'm teaching culinary students how to grow their own food. I have a gardening class. Phenomenal. I'm having the best time of my entire 26 year career and his last couple of years, because we're going out and taking shipping pallets from the loading dock and building raised beds out of them. And I'm filling with compost from a caselle Organics who takes food waste and turns it into 100% organic compost for me. And they bring it back to me. And we put seeds in the ground and we grow these things out. And then we pick what we grew. And we got right back into the kitchen. We're right menus around it. That's more fun than ever had in 26 years. It's takes me right back to Grandma's garden, and going into the kitchen and cooking that stuff. I'm just missing the crabmeat right now.

Chris Spear:

Almost makes me want to go back to culinary school.

Russ Zito:

Yeah, it makes me want to go back. Fortunately, I'm there already. So

Chris Spear:

and what are your thoughts on say, like a community college? You know, there's a huge gap. So looking at, you know, the finances of it, what you want to get out of it? There's a lot of smaller programs at places. I mean, how do you choose? And again, and again, very personal thing, but just like it is, you know, I have seen good programs. Do you recommend those for a certain working for the

Russ Zito:

school? I have to be careful how certain Oh, but But you know, when I went to school, there was, I don't know, three or four color schools he had to choose from that that were, you know, the big schools. Yeah. We had Johnson and Wales. We had other school that we always call the other school.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, there's some others. New York

Russ Zito:

was the Hyde Park. I think it was. Then you had the West Coast,

Chris Spear:

California culinary California

Russ Zito:

culinary and, and I mean, I remember when I first looked at that the other school down in New York City and we can say CIA. They were still in New Haven, Connecticut. I mean, we had faculty at Johnson and Wales that went to CIA in New Haven. And think about that for a minute. So a lot of people didn't even know that they originally started in New Haven, Connecticut.

Chris Spear:

I didn't I'm just learning this now. Yeah.

Russ Zito:

So yeah, I'm going back to where I was. I was I was in high school in the in the early 80s. You know, and as folks that are still here that were Students in the 70s, Johnson Wales, I think any training that you can get in conjunction any formal training, where there is a formative process, and there's an assessment, and there's an evaluation of your your capabilities, is going to only bolster what you can learn out there on a job, and really kind of back it up. There's so many great programs out there. And I can tell you, my sentiment behind it all is that we had two or three big schools back in the 70s. In the 80s, that were turning out, a lot of college students that went into the industry have worked for many years. And a lot of those students are finding a way in the teaching today, if they haven't found a way into teaching 10 or 15 years ago, and a lot of those programs are in existence, because of the skills and ability of a lot of our alumni and our students that we put out there. If you go to any song, any any one of those smaller programs, I guarantee it, there's one degree of separation from a Johnson and Wales or a CIA or California culinary or Nicky or any one of the big schools back then alumni had to be or they're tied to the ACF or to tied to the research chefs Association, where they're tied to one of those organizations that was formed or, you know, founded by or populated by students from those programs. So it's all interconnected. And I believe it's it's all fabulous and amazing. And, you know, every student has to make their choice and it's based on their background, their capability, their monetary capability, the yield financially dome, I'm hoping with the way some of these things are going out, we get a little bit of tuition assistance and a little bit of reprieve on some of that stuff. But well, that

Chris Spear:

I mean, that's the hardest thing. And when people ask me, if I would go back, my doubt, or my reservation is the fact that I still remember the numbers and regular listeners to the show for this before my student loan repayment that I personally had, and my parents and I were paying along the way was $404 a month for 10 years. That's a lot. Like and I came out and I was getting job offers at $8 an hour with a four year bachelor's, I'm you know, this was like 20 something years ago, like $404 was like half a month's rent or like a car payment. And I had to make choices based on the finances of that you know, when you want to go work at this really cool restaurant, but they want to pay you peanuts, you know, I ended up not pay at all, you know, we're not paying you at all. Yeah, 100% make family meal and you could watch service. I ended up working at a retirement community. Now that was great. But that shaped my whole career path because it was like they were offering me 1150 An hour and two weeks vacation and you know, retirement and all kinds of stuff. And you know, fairly normal work and fairly normal work, we and I jumped at it and a lot of people say so I've literally never worked in a restaurant chef. Like that's why I've Chefs Without Restaurants. I got out of school in 1998. And I've literally never worked in a restaurant like my whole career path has been retirement communities catering, IKEA r&d, personal chef,

Russ Zito:

Chris, you ready? Why do you think Johnson Wales has so many of these programs today?

Chris Spear:

Because the restaurant industry is tough. You know,

Russ Zito:

in a nutshell, becoming a line cook is not sustainable through culinary school.

Chris Spear:

But that's going to impact the industry, the restaurant industry

Russ Zito:

is we want to produce managers, we want to produce entrepreneurs, we want to produce people that are going to go and become dieticians. And they're going to pave the way, right new policy for the USDA, and for the school food systems and in all these things, and that's why we have so many programs today. You know, we're not training line cooks anymore. And you know, some of our chefs still don't you know, they have a hard time with that. Some of our alumni have a hard time with that. Ah, you guys can't cook. But it's not about the cooking. And it's more it's about that culinary Foundation, those basic core competencies and cooking and skills. We're not We're not training like cooks. I can tell you that right now.

Chris Spear:

But what does that mean for the restaurant industry? I mean, I still love going out to eat and I mean, do we just have too many restaurants out there, I look at the restaurants and they're all hiring and they're all having challenges and they can't find people I don't

Russ Zito:

think there's ever too many restaurants there's always going to be good ones is always going to be restaurants that are that are learning and growing and working to be better and become bigger. There's always going to be small hole in wall places that are you know, those those hidden gems. I think everybody has a place in this industry, the food trucks and the little kiosks in the airport, wherever it is. There's somebody's going to find their niche. But the big culinary schools like us, it's just it's not sustainable to have a student come to us and then take a job for 15,000 hours online cooking. And there's always going to be students like that. There's always going to be students that want to be in those those boutique. You'll restaurants working with the you know the Achatz in The killers in the you know the big name chefs and in yes, they're going to do well they're they're going to succeed if the if they stay on that path and they're gonna have student loans to repay.

Chris Spear:

That's what I thought I wanted to do. You know, I think I mean, but again, the times are so different. What else would you do you know, it's I'm getting a four year bachelor's and culinary. Of course, I want to go work at the best restaurants for my externship. I applied at Charlie Trotter's and was accepted and emeralds and just like the finances of that didn't work out either because they were unpaid internships where I would have to pay for my own housing. And I ended up having a great experience working at a hotel in Minneapolis, you were my senior advisor, I think you had to sign off on my final grade. Thank you for helping me.

Russ Zito:

There's so many opportunities like that, that don't have to be I have to tell you, when I advise my students that are looking for internships, I'm like, Yeah, you can go to the in little Washington, you can go to do the two star Michelin, you can go to these great places, but you're not going to get the same experience that you're gonna get at a place where you'll maybe your existence at that location is valued a little differently. You know, that position is not as sought after, because there's not 800 people vying for that one unpaid internship, because that's where they think they want to be. So as an advisor, student advisor today, you know, I'm gonna say Go Go for the country club job where there's three or four internship positions, go to a big hotel where you're going to get that real experience. You're handling volume cooking, in a quality setting, with a good chef, and maybe even an alumni. I think you kind of feel what I'm talking about. Yeah,

Chris Spear:

I mean, I probably would have hated Charlie Trotter's. Like, as much as I that was like the pinnacle of fine dining. From everything I've read about him and how they operated. That's not how I think I like to be led, you know, and that's not mainstream restaurant industry. And I don't think that's it would have worked. So I went to work at this hotel where like, literally the first day there I walked in, and the chef's like, hey, you know, nice to meet you. Can you make a fruit and cheese platter? I was like, how, how do you want these, like, I trust you, you know, like, that was my experience was like, he's like, the platters are there, that stuff's in the fridge. Show me what you got. That was day one. That's and I just the majority, the industry was given, like, some leeway to do my thing. And then the sous chef came out after and says, you know, good, but I would tweak this and that and, and then the next day, it was like, we had a restaurant there and it was working the lines are you ready to work the line and we're not gonna let you sink but Jump On In tickets come up, you know, and had me going from day one where some of these bigger places, you're just going to be peeling potatoes, and you're free labor service for three months, I had an amazing experience. And I learned so much on that externship. I'm so glad it worked out the way it did.

Russ Zito:

And I can tell you, I would advise any my students that were looking for something like that today to do the same thing. And I think most of our faculty understand that, there's always those students are going to want to go to those great places. And I have experiences like that all the time with a chef, I literally I made I chopped veggies, and I did I peel potatoes and I made and I made a staff meal. And and I got to watch service. And that was it. And I really didn't feel like a valued part of the team. I didn't learn a lot, because I wasn't doing a lot. And I would always advise our students to really pick something that's going to be a little more beneficial to them without the prestige, but with you know that that kind of perceived value of having an intern there. And there's so many programs that you know, there's a shortage everywhere. And a lot of our students, if they're going to line cook, they're going to like cook while they're in school. They're not going to line cook, maybe after school unless that's really where they want to go. And you have to learn to pick and choose those those spots that are really going to be sustainable for you. And it's hard to do, because every student is different. Every location is different. I just think, God that we have so many alumni out there that are willing to take our students in, because they know what they've been through. They know what the program consists of. And they know what the some of the other schools do as well. So they're always going to be welcomed, they're always going to be taken in and oh is going to be seen as a valuable member of that team. If I send them to somebody I know, understands our program. And that's what we're trying to do.

Chris Spear:

And I try and tell everyone this is like one you get out of it, what you put into it, but I think I was too focused on grades. And I think people still are, you know, like, depending on how you were raised, but like I was taught you're supposed to get good grades like and I have to say it didn't matter. Like there's not like a single person who ever even actually asked to see a transcript or copy to prove that I went to culinary school like nobody ever was like show me your degree. But just knowing personally like I was in a class I wanted to get an A and if there was a choice where I could do this fish But I don't know how to do or do the steak like I sometimes took the easy road, I can admit that. And I wish that I had said, like, you know, I don't want to fail. But I should have said, I have no idea how to butcher a flounder. And I need to know that. So let me do that. And maybe I'll get a C on it. But I'll learn as opposed to like, Oh, I know how to butcher chicken. So let me do the chicken because so much of the classes are group work, where you're divvying it up yourself, you know, you've got eight things you got to make for people and you pick and it's like, I think there's a tendency to maybe gravitate towards what you know, and are comfortable with. So you can kind of skate on some things and come out of school and say, Man, I really am like, I was not great at butchering fish. And it took me a number of years. And in hindsight, I really wish I tackled those things.

Russ Zito:

Getting out of your comfort zone is something that a lot of people have an issue with. They say the number one fear in the world today or us or whatever it is, is that fear of

Chris Spear:

public speaking. Yeah. And they made us take that class in school. I think that was a bachelor's class. But that was so terrifying to me. And yeah,

Russ Zito:

I think it's terrifying everybody but also butchering. Fish for the first time is probably pretty terrifying for Coke. Yeah, that is for anybody, or learning how to cut up a perfect strip steak or taking this, your $180 piece of meat and breaking down, you know, your shot toes and getting your tornadoes and just think, think what will you do if you hack a beef tenderloin today? I mean, what's the price of that versus what it was two years ago versus what it was? 15 years ago? It's

Chris Spear:

like it's ugly right now.

Russ Zito:

Oh, my God, it's crazy. So yeah, I think everybody would probably prefer to take the route that they know, versus, you know, go for something new. And if your grades depending on it, I would say that's that's probably going to be the majority of people. But there's always those outliers. You know, I don't want to say any of the classic sayings about what gets degrees. I think just the ability to go through a training program like that and, and see the demonstrations and being able to attempt to replicate those demonstrations. And you'll repetitively do that process is only going to make it better, no matter whether you got an A, A C, A B or something in between. Yo just the experience alone is is invaluable. You know, a lot of people learn from their mistakes. And a lot of mistakes are made in culinary school. And that's probably where you want to make.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I only know what horseradish looks like, because it was the one thing I missed on my store room. I know he he took out that bucket of like 400 things. Who was Jimmy Fuchs? Yeah. And I had, I had never seen horseradish before, and I missed it. So you know, it's kind of burned in my mind what it looks like, well, if you if you are not doing what you do, what would you Is there anything outside of the culinary world that you can see yourself doing? Do you have any hobbies that could overtake? Or is it just like ride or die with a Culinary Life?

Russ Zito:

I don't know if it's right or die. I often think back about how I regret not staying in the military. I really enjoyed my time in and, you know, would have been eligible for retirement 10 years ago. And maybe onto a second career doing something different. I really enjoy getting out in the garden with these students today. And I have my little garden home. But I've been able to take that to the next level with a local farm here in my community, where I volunteer, you know, community garden, everything. We grow some somewhere upwards of 40,000 pounds a summer it goes to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and local food pantries and shelters. And I get students involved in that. So I can I could see myself doing something like that I just inherited a fruit farm that's sitting right behind our high school in town. It's been inoperable for two and a half years. And we're trying to revive that. So free farm is a 40 foot shipping container as 100% hydroponic farm inside of it. It's all self contained. Wow, that's really cool. Yeah. So I'm getting my students involved in it. Yep, I could see myself doing something like that. But I'm also a big freakin geek. And I could see myself you know, my first job offer outside of school in 1994 was placed in Ithaca, New York, it was seaboard three they wrote software for managing inventory control.

Chris Spear:

Well, I remember having to use the seaboard program. Way back when in my very first computer lab and that was

Russ Zito:

on your Old Wang vs mainframe we had down there on campus with that little green green screen and yeah, that was that was my first job offer and I kind of blew it off to work at the family business. Making machine parts for pasta machines would take 16 weeks to get a replacement part for an Italian pasta machine. You're in a manufacturing plant in New Jersey, we can make it in 24 hours and charge for times as much because you didn't have to wait 16 weeks to get it.

Chris Spear:

Once I one of the things I love about chefs is they seem to be some of the most giving people out there who want to really connect with their community, give their time, give their resources, their knowledge, and are just dedicated to helping people and feeding people. And that's one of the things I just love so much about this industry is, I know very few people who work in this business who are not committed to helping people in some way, I would say

Russ Zito:

we're notorious over shares, you know, even with things that people don't want you to share with them. But

Chris Spear:

you look, like you said, you learned so much working in a kitchen, I've definitely felt like I've been a therapist slash guidance counselor in my years, and the kitchen,

Russ Zito:

yesterday was an EMT, and somebody do convulsing, on the floor in the middle of the hack building. And other people are sitting around, I'm like, You know what, you gotta get down here, this girl said to like a five minute seizure, um, like somebody call 911 Get paramedics down here. And let's see, I'll get security down here. I'm trying to keep her head on the wall, you know. But you know, same thing, I call them peripheral, you know, professions, if you will, every Cook, every chef, every restaurant owner is good at basic maintenance is good at preventative maintenance. So they should be anyway, right? You know, you don't call a plumber to clean out the grease trap, you clean out the grease trap, you know, you don't call an electrician to fix a light switch, you fix a light switch, or you put a cover over it so it doesn't get damaged anymore, you know, you troubleshoot those problems, and you mitigate them for for the least expensive path that you can take. And you'll learn a lot about preventative maintenance and small equipment upkeep. And I was wanting to write a course for the school on like, small appliance repair, you know, cuz I can get you a bearing and 24 hours for your KitchenAid mixer that you'd be waiting 16 weeks for or, you know, you're gonna pay somebody you know, $400 to replace it, or you will repair or replace, you know, I even went out and bought a spot welder. So I can put the you know, little tabs on the KitchenAid bowls. You know, when they break off and somebody has to buy a new bowl for for $85 or whatever it is I'm like you force for spot welds with this thing that he's paid on it $25 Or I fixed for balls, I made my money back on equipment. You know, even those, when it comes a little, you know, the shin walks, they get the little hook on the end that always breaks off, put those things back on and fix it.

Chris Spear:

You get to be really resourceful. That's it

Russ Zito:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, repair. That's the big one that most people miss, and to be sustainable in this industry. That's where you gotta learn to do. And, and a lot of cooks are good at that. Or they they find ways to rig things so that they continue to work even without those parts.

Chris Spear:

They're creative by nature.

Russ Zito:

Yeah, well, you get that high stress high. Yo, you know, tension situation, where you got 400 people waiting for you to get something out. And the only way to make it happen is to make it happen.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I've been there many times as we all have. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate having you here tonight. Thanks for taking the time. I know we've had a late evening, but I get some of my best work done at night.

Russ Zito:

Chris, it was a blast. I really appreciate you having me on and it was great catching up.

Chris Spear:

Thanks for coming on the show. And to all of our listeners. This has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. Thanks so much and have a great week. Go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group mailing list and check database. The community's free to join. You'll get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.