Sun, May 19 2013
The HRC Culinary Academy in Dobrich, open since February 8, held its official inauguration ceremony on May 15. But, before that, educators, students, parents, journalists, diplomats, government and business leaders from Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States, as well as Dobrich, got a rare opportunity to investigate the premises.
At one end of several corridors was a cocktail lounge where a two-person band provided live entertainment. Opposite them a wine table offered various drinks. From the safety of large one-way window panes, guests could observe student chefs preparing hors d'oeuvres in an adjoining prep kitchen; or actually help themselves to them after negotiating another maze-like passage. The entrees included sliced hard cheese, skewered chicken pieces and fried ham and cheese sandwich squares.
In the dessert room they could try apple strudels, lemon curd tarts, chocolate fruit pieces and banichki. Occupying the far end of the academy was a wine cellar (one gets the feeling of an Ann Radcliffe novel) with its stock of Bulgarian wines. And more tasting.
Overseeing the gastronomic portion of the event was head-chef instructor Robin Villarreal Monserrate. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Academie d'Art Culinaire de Paris, he brings with him an extensive background in French and international cuisine. His lessons are aided by those of visiting chefs from the hotel school Ter Duinen, a hospitality and cooking institute in Belgium in partnership with the academy.
Monserrate says that the school utilises state-of-the-art training facilities and kitchen equipment from the Swedish company Electrolux. Individualised cooking stations enable students to practise and master everything from cutlery techniques to sauce-making, basting, roasting, broiling and stewing in a setting similar to those of world-class dining establishments. To heighten the sense of realism, an accompanying restaurant allows for discerning patrons to sample the students' end products. In addition, trainees are taught bread and pastry baking, stewardship and food storage. But the programme goes beyond meal preparations per se.
"Our curriculum also features restaurant management, menu planning, inventorying and accounting," says Olga Georgiadi, the academy director. "In this way, our graduates will be equipped to become head chefs or managers if they so choose."
Miroslav Dimitrov, a 27-year-old student from Sofia, finds the combined classroom and hands-on approach very effective. He also looks forward to the two out of four alternating semesters of internships they undergo. "Six of us are going to five-star hotels in Britain, the other three to the Netherlands," he says. As for their future plans, most say they would ultimately like to have their own restaurants.
Although 30 students have enrolled for the next semester, the school also offers non-diploma courses for full-time cooks to upgrade their skills, and cooking enthusiasts who would like to learn to prepare say, French, Italian or Thai cuisine. Georgiadi say her aim is to make the academy "the best in Eastern Europe".
The highlight of the tour, a live cooking show in the style of BTV's Bon Appetit, took place at the demonstration theatre. But instead of Ivan Zvezdev (who has visited the school and marvelled at the facilities) you could find a chef with an archetypical French accent sauteeing vegetables. Originally from Montpellier, Joel Antunes has cooked around the world, and serves as executive chef of The Oak Room in New York's Plaza Hotel. He counts Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John and the late Princess Diana among his clients.
He and fellow presenter Louis Spost gave their take on fine cuisine. "The most important thing is the diversity of ingredients," said Spost, executive chef of the Hilton Atlanta. "We have incorporated many different elements from South American, European, Asian and Polynesian culinary traditions. The more you have at your disposal, the better." Antunes' message to students was one of passion. "When you start off, you must work very hard for the first 10 years, with seemingly incommensurate compensation. But if you possess true passion, cooking will not seem like work at all, and it becomes a most rewarding profession."
His words were echoed by the Dutch ambassador. Willem van Ee had the honour of cutting the ribbon because the HRC Culinary Academy was the brainchild of Frederik den Hollander, co-founder of HRC International, a training and career development organisation based in Maastricht. In addition, the Dutch government had financed the building of the school.
In his speech, Van Ee emphasised the importance of Dutch-Bulgarian co-operation. He also told the gathering that competition in the hospitality industry was extremely tough and that customers were forever demanding better products and services as well as higher quality. "Don't be driven by money. Just focus on doing your absolute, very best. Give your clients an unforgettable dining experience. Blow them off their feet with your creative talent and you will achieve success!"
The significance of the establishment of the Academy was summed up by Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association chairman Blagoi Ragin. "We are proud to welcome this ground-breaking initiative. A culinary school of international standards is exactly what Bulgaria's hospitality industry needs."
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