New England Culinary Institute (visited 4/15/14)
Occupying several buildings on a main street in Montpelier (the smallest state capitol in the country, and the only one without a Burger King, a McDonalds, or a Starbucks), NECI (pronounced “necky”) does amazing work training students in a variety of culinary arts, including Baking/Pastries, Culinary Arts, and Management. Both the restaurant and the bakery are open to the public: “The big difference with NECI is that there’s a customer at the other end. It makes it immediate.”
We were lucky enough to eat dinner at the restaurant, and we had time to chat with students, faculty, and admissions reps. One of the chefs we talked has a cookbook coming out called Real World Farm to Table. One of the instructors is Chinese and is providing language classes for students in the BA program. Another one (Jean-Louis) won Chopped. He sat with us at dinner and provided some great entertainment! The student at our table is a first-gen college-goer. She was the first female to do an internship with a butcher. She grew up on a farm and understands the process, but said that being at a butcher was still a big adjustment.
There are 500 students enrolled at any given time, but only half are on campus; the other half are off doing internships. Students complete several modules on campus separated by 6-month internships. They have a strong presence in Napa, New Zealand, Germany, and many the big cities around the country. Students are encouraged to stay in the country for their first internship. After that, they can go abroad.
The classes and work on campus are set up to mimic the industry, so the students are scheduled for about 55 hours a week. Another way that they distinguish themselves from other culinary institutes are that students can’t hide here. Other places may have 100 kids in a lecture and 18 in the kitchen; here, classes are capped at 20 and no more than 10 will be in the kitchen at a time. In addition to all the experience working in both the bakery and the restaurant, they get other types of great experiences: we got to see Easter Bunny Chocolate Racecars that they made. There is also the annual “Wedding Cake Challenge” when groups are given a specific task such as to coordinate the cake with something like a specific article of clothing or to tea cups. They give tastes to the public who get to vote on appearance and taste.
To expand some opportunities for students, they have looked at the Five-College Consortium and are now trying to get NECI, Sterling, Green Mountain, and Vermont Tech linked so students can do a 1-semester exchange among the colleges. They also offer Dual Enrollment for high-schoolers who can enroll online first by doing 9 weeks online and 1 weekend in residency. After that, they start on site. October is the traditional start for kids coming out of high school. Non-traditional students usually start in April or November.