LAND OF THE TALL HATS. Johnson & Wales University educates chefs of the future. THE COOKING CRAFT
Charleston, S.C., and Providence, R.I.
NIGEL COX, an Englishman, had no qualms at all about giving up a secure, interesting ``job for life'' at Buckingham Palace and making the decision to move to the United States. Now instructor at Johnson & Wales University, Charleston campus, chef Cox left what many chefs would consider the most posh cooking job ever, as part of the Buckingham Palace team.
``It was time for a change,'' he says quietly. I wanted to get into teaching. From a cook's standpoint, teaching can be a challenge. It can be both exciting and satisfying.''
The 30-year-old instructor, who has been cooking professionally for 16 years, now teaches classical cooking to second-year students. He specializes in what is known to chefs the world over as garde manger - or cold food preparation.
A French term originally meaning a cool place where cold food was prepared, garde manger is also used to name the person who actually prepares the cold foods.
Today garde manger includes making many kinds of cold foods, such as ice carvings, elaborate buffet foods, p^at'es, terrines, aspics, sauces, non-edible food displays, desserts, garnishes, and food decoration.
Cox also teaches and cooks in other classical disciplines, although he admits that pastry is one of his favorites.
AFTER leaving Buckingham Palace, Cox took a turn at being pastry chef on a cruise ship, where a shipboard romance led to his marriage to his American wife, Karen.
Later they toured the US for seven months, finally discovering Charleston as the place they wanted to live. Proximity to the ocean was one of the attractions of Charleston, a historic city with many charms.
``I've always wanted to live by the sea, and now one of my greatest pleasures is sailing in Charleston Harbor.''
A modest person, who is most interested in getting down to the realities of everyday teaching, Cox will, if urged, speak about his memorable times at the palace.
One of the most impressive, he says, involved the royal wedding parties of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
``The palace was full of guests from all over the world,'' Cox comments. ``It was a nonstop week. We were unbelievably busy cooking and preparing food night and day.
``At Buckingham there are 22 chefs in all, only nine working at a time. But for state banquets more help is brought in. We worked long hours for special functions, but there were compensations such as being able to travel.''
Although based in London, Cox traveled seven months of the year, those times when the Queen would go to her various homes and on trips around the world.
He would spend two months in London. Then he and as many as four other chefs would cook on the royal yacht - sailing to Singapore, the Bahamas, and twice to Mediterranean islands.
``It's like a different world working at Buckingham Palace,'' Cox says.
``We had everything to work with - all kinds of equipment, hundreds of copper pans new and antique, beautiful collections, really. We had the very best of foods and ingredients.
``There were no women chefs in the palace kitchen brigade, except sometimes women were doing the washing up,'' he continues.
``It was a wonderful experience working with master chefs, and there were food competitions among the staff that kept us on our toes.
``There were occasional gifts from visiting dignitaries from all over the world, and I have photos and cooking medals and pleasant memories.''
Cox says he is a not an elaborate demonstration instructor. But he is constantly encouraging students, urging them to ask questions and always ready to give extra help. WALTER C. ANHALT, director of the Charleston branch, says, ``Classwork, combined with training by some of the master European and US chefs, provides our students with a well-rounded foundation. One of our strong points is combining laboratory classes with related studies.''
``The practical laboratory work involves chemistry, physiology, and physics, as students learn why sauces curdle and what effect heat has on meats.
``They also do fieldwork at restaurants and resorts around the country to learn how to apply their skills,'' Mr. Anhalt explains.
The Charleston branch graduated its first class in 1985, but Johnson & Wales started as a business college in 1914 in Providence, R.I.
The Culinary Arts Division, started in 1973 with only 141 students, now enrolls more than 2,800 students in an associate degree program, making it one of the largest cooking schools in the world.
``Updating and revision of the degree and continuing education programs reflect the needs of the food service industry,'' according to Robert Nograd, dean of the foods programs.
``We're not just training classical chefs. We are training food service personnel,'' says Mr. Nograd, a certified master chef and dean of the culinary division.
``The title of `chef,''' he says, ``is earned after college and only after years of experience.
``Our students accept this philosophy and look for positions that will be a continuation of their culinary education under the guidance of some of the world's finest executive chefs.''
But the learning experience doesn't stop in the kitchens or the bake shops or pastry lab environments.
The school operates three training sites in the Providence area. Students have hands-on experience at the Rhode Island Inn in Warwick, the Hospitality Center in Cranston, and the Johnson & Wales Inn in Seekonk, as well as at the 29 kitchens in the Providence facility. Staffed by the students and supervised by master chefs and professionals, the kitchens are open to the public.
``Here they are learning to work under pressure, against the clock, in real situations,'' says Nograd.
WALKING down the wide corridors of Johnson & Wales classrooms in Providence or at the Charleston branch campus, one sees students in the school's kitchens or in classrooms always dressed in the cook's whites, the classic chef uniform.
For dining room, sanitation, and other related classes, the students are issued black skirt or trousers, black accessories, white shirt, and black bow tie.
``Everyone gets them, and everyone has to wear them,'' says Noel Cullen, director of operations.
``Although a cook or chef's uniform is not as status related today as it was years ago,'' Mr. Cullen comments, ``all students are in uniform, and the school insists on hairnets for male or female, if the hair goes beyond the collar of their white tunic.''
One small distinction is that students wear white pants, but after they're graduated, they may wear small checked trousers instead.
``When I was an apprentice in Europe,'' Cullen says, ``I could never wear a hat taller than six inches.
``The gros bonnet, or tall hat, was relegated only to the top chefs. It was a status thing.
``Today both students and instructors may wear the tall white paper toque, but now it's just a sanitary measure. It's worn as part of the uniform, not as any particular symbol of rank or standing.
``Some chefs in Europe today are wearing a sort of skullcap, flat, like an upside-down sailor hat, which was formerly a hat for the scullery boys.
``But in the US the tall paper hat came into use in the '60s, and most everybody wears them because they're so practical. It's light, with a sweatband and holes in the top. And it's inexpensive and disposable,'' he says.
Typical jobs held by graduates today include line cook, pastry chef, sous-chef, (second in command), caterers, and assistant managers in restaurants, such as Commander's Palace, New Orleans; Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston; Saga Corporation; and international hotel chains such as Hyatt, Intercontinental, Marriott, Sheraton, and Holiday Inn.
The most recent graduating class had a placement rate of 99 percent. Students have reported an average of more than six job offers, each.
Anhalt says that some students from the Charleston branch will begin work after receiving their two-year degrees. Others will go to Providence for two more years to earn a bachelor's degree.
HERE is the recipe that chef Cox used when he made scones for the Queen of England.
Buckingham Palace Scones 3 1/2 cups flour Pinch of salt 3/4 cup butter 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup raisins
Cut in butter, flour, salt together.
Add sugar and raisins.
Make a well in center of mixture; add egg and small amount of milk.
If mixture appears to be too dry add more milk.
Blend to a nice, smooth dough.
Roll out on floured board to 1/2 inch thick. Use cutter with 2-inch fluted edge. Place on lightly greased baking sheet; brush with beaten egg.
Bake in 350-degree F. oven 10 to 15 minutes.
Center of bottom should be lightly colored.