Next Generation of All-Star Chefs Being Trained at NOCHI
“New Orleans culture starts with food and music. In music, we’ve done well with educating the next generation, but we have not done that on the food side. We are a step in that direction.”
This observation from Gerald Duhon, the new executive director of the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI), succinctly describes the purpose of his organization: to ensure that the pipeline of talent that supplies the region’s world-famous restaurant scene continues to flow freely.
“Our core programming is that we are a culinary education facility in one of the greatest food cities in the world,” he elaborated. “We have vocational training, professional development and continuing education. But the main reason we are here is for our certificate program.”
NOCHI provides the only dedicated certificate program in the city. Delivered as a six-month course, it offers participants two specific pathways: culinary arts, and baking and pastry. The curriculum is based on similar programs from the Culinary Institute of America.
“We want to make a food career more accessible to someone who can’t afford a two-year program,” said Duhon. “We also have scholarships available to make it more affordable. It’s really an issue of equity.”
For those already in the culinary and hospitality industry, NOCHI offers a variety of professional development programs, most of which last 10 days to two weeks. Topics cover a broad spectrum, ranging from how to handle food safely to responsible vendor permits, from meat preparation to pairing foods and wines, among many others.
“Restaurants themselves are not a formal education situation,” said Duhon. “If you have a person on your line at your restaurant, and you want that person to take the next step, but they don’t have time for a six-month course, these programs are perfect.”
The final category of programming at NOCHI is what Duhon described as “enthusiast classes, for foodies but not necessarily professionals. They are an opportunity for everyone to walk in and experience what our students experience every day.”
Again, the range of topics is broad, from baking Christmas cookies to shucking oysters. The classes enable food lovers to hone their skills and learn new techniques, without taking that deep, professional-level dive.
All the NOCHI programming takes place in the organization’s newly-renovated, 90,000 square-foot building on Howard Avenue. $35 million was spent on completely remaking the interior, which is furnished with $5 million worth of donated equipment. Three formal classrooms/kitchens, each capable of accommodating sixteen students, are the instructional focal points. There is also considerable private events space, including upper floor rooms and balconies with spectacular city views.
Also housed in the building are the Tulane School of Architecture, and an independent restaurant, Twisted Waffle. Eventually Duhon anticipates that NOCHI will run its own restaurant in that space, creating jobs for its program graduates.
In the meantime, the organization does have a job placement program. However, with its board of directors being a veritable who’s who of New Orleans chefs – among them, Ti Martin, Dickie Brennan and Edgar “Dooky” Chase III – graduates definitely have an inside track for launching their restaurant careers.
The NOCHI focus is firmly trained on local people and local restaurants. According to Duhon, students have come from as far away as Hawai’i, but most are from the metro area, younger people in their late twenties to early thirties. Some have already started in food and hospitality, while others are moving on to a second career.
“This is a culinary school in our city for our people,” Duhon stated firmly. “We view NOCHI as an integral part of New Orleans. We’ve been recognized in this city for our leadership in the food industry for so long, but we can’t take that for granted. We have to be innovative to keep on being a leader.”