SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a place on State Street in Salt Lake City just north of 1500 South where one can step off the sidewalk along the bustling street and into a sprawling commercial kitchen with exposed brick walls and natural light streaming in from the windows.
It’s the Park City Culinary Institute’s Salt Lake location, and depending on the time and day, there will be either culinary students earning their professional certification or chefs-for-the-night at a one-off cooking or baking class.
The culinary school's Salt Lake location, which opened its doors in January, will offer its next round of culinary certificate programs starting Oct. 16 and is one of many local companies seeking to give Utahns of all ages and skill levels the tools to be successful in the kitchen.
Park City Culinary Institute
According to institute director and founder Laurie Moldawer, the culinary school embodies an ideal environment for foodies in Utah.
“There’s something unique about Utah and where it is right now and how restaurants are growing and people are starting to take food seriously,” Moldawer said, adding that it’s a special environment that fits the Park City Culinary Institute well.
“Utah is really at the cusp of all these restaurants starting to build a following of people who respect and appreciate great food,” she said. “It’s a good place for us. We’re really excited to be here right now.”
Moldawer, originally from New York, attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and is a chef in her own right. She helped to found Park City Culinary Institute nearly five years ago and has established a school with a distinct identity.
She said there are several things that set the institute apart from other culinary schools, namely that the programs are shorter and less expensive, the instructors are experienced chefs with impressive resumes and graduates almost always get a job.
Alumni of the institute have graduated to jobs at some of Salt Lake’s most sought-after restaurants. Moldawer said the job placement rate is nearly perfect. She can tell stories of students who applied and were rejected from jobs at popular restaurants and then were hired for the same positions after graduating from the program at Park City Culinary Institute.
“For people who get this training, the jobs are there,” Moldawer said. “I can’t guarantee that to anyone, but the jobs have been there so far.”
Along with preparing students for career success, Moldawer wanted to create a place where food is fun. She said she loved her time at Le Cordon Bleu and tries to give students the time and resources to enjoy baking and cooking.
“What’s cool about culinary school is you get to do stuff for fun, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not someone’s going to buy it,” she said.
The school offers three certificates: baking and pastry, cuisine and a combined program that includes both cuisine and baking and pastry and allows participants to earn a professional certificate in the culinary arts. There are daytime and evenings programs, and each of the baking and pastry and the cuisine programs can be completed in the daytime in four weeks. Students interested in the combined program can complete the two programs consecutively.
Students come in all ages and life situations, Moldawer said, from 18-year-old high school graduates to middle-aged people looking to start their own restaurant or food truck.
“Because we have a two-month program that’s accessible to anybody the classes range from 18 to 60,” she said. “A lot of students have a career already and have some savings, so they can come to school, work for a short amount of time and then open up their own business pretty quickly.”
For those whose aspirations are more amateur than professional chef, Park City Culinary Institute also offers one-night cooking classes and group event packages. Visit parkcityculinaryinstitute.com to learn more.
Teaching youths cooking and life skills
In addition to facilitating future opportunities for career advancement, public culinary programs such as Youth Can Cook emphasize how culinary skills can improve daily life.
Youth Can Cook is a grant-funded Utah State University Extension program that allows teens from low-income families to earn a food safety manager certification, which widens the pool of job prospects.
Program coordinator Katie Kapp started out working with Food Sense, another USU Extension program that teaches families how to eat healthy on a limited budget. Food Sense offers hourlong classes that start with 30-minute lessons on skills needed to plan menus on a budget and end with 30-minute food demonstrations.
Program organizers found that teaching families had a greater impact than classes focusing on individuals, so Youth Can Cook sessions begin with a family cooking component.
From there, the eight- to 12-week program covers food safety manager and master food preserver certifications and finally guides youths through what Kapp calls “job readiness and life skills” training.
“Once they complete the program, they become our paid apprentice,” Kapp said. “They become educators at Food Sense and they’re helping teach those classes, so it kind of comes full circle.”
Kapp said she enjoys seeing how motivated students are to gain skills that will help them enter the food industry.
“It’s fun because they all have an interest in food, but it’s also pretty inspiring to hear what their future plans are, without being prompted by the program,” Kapp said.
Some students are encouraged by families, teachers or foster parents, she said, but many heard about the program at school or saw a flyer and were self-motivated enough to sign up for the program on their own.
“They come from really hard circumstances, but they’re really motivated and they want to get out of the circumstances they’re in," she said. "They saw this program as an opportunity to help in that, like a stepping stone.”
Youths who are interested in the program can apply online.
Local cooking classes
Whether you’re interested in food recreationally, professionally or practically, there are many options in Utah for learning to cook. Here are a few places that offer cooking classes or programs:
• Park City Culinary Institute Salt Lake Campus (1484 S. State; parkcityculinaryinstitute.com): Learn to make everything from sushi to macarons to pizza. All cooking classes are held at the Salt Lake City location (other locations focus on the culinary school program).
• Salt Lake Culinary Center (2233 S. 300 East; saltlakeculinarycenter.com): The Salt Lake Culinary Center offers various classes, including cooking fundamentals, date nights and girls’ nights out.
• Sur la Table (locations at Fashion Place Mall and The Gateway; surlatable.com): Learn to bake different types of bread, cook Chinese food or practice crafting your own Middle Eastern fare.
• Gygi (3500 S. 300 West; gygicookingclasses.com): Gygi has classes for all ages and specialties, including cake decorating and Thai food.
• The Finishing School (locations in Highland and Holladay; learntocookandsew.com): Sign up your child for a multiweek program or plan a cupcake-decorating birthday party.
• Harmons (multiple locations; harmonsgrocery.com): Learn to grill steak or discover the secrets of ramen.