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Spicing it Up to Attract Culinary Students

Published Wednesday Jun 17, 2009

A French cooking school in Hampton is adding new ingredients to its business model to increase revenue. Chez Boucher's culinary arts center now has a bigger location in downtown Hampton featuring a company store, film production studio kitchen, and authentic bistro in addition to its culinary arts programs.

Later this year, Chef and Owner Ron Boucher plans to launch a professional, online training program using the new kitchen, which is outfitted with cameras and monitors for taping and viewing of cooking techniques and demonstrations. That's in addition to the school's Culinary Arts Professional Training Certificate Program, an accelerated, six-month program endorsed by the American Culinary

Federation and licensed by the NH Department of Education. Shorter classes are also available.

Chez Boucher moved into the new 3,200-square-foot space in January from the 2,000square-foot space he was renting. The six-year-old school is committed to the slow food movement, which combines the pleasure of food with a commitment to the community and the environment. Our focus is going back to basics of food, from the farm to the kitchen to the taste, Boucher says, noting the school makes its own cheeses and smokes its own hams. It's comforting to know where your food comes from and how it arrived at your door, he says.

Boucher says he is fielding more inquiries due to the economy and people wanting to change careers. He says his program is a good solution for people who do not have the time or money to go through a two-year degree program. The program, which cost $12,500, includes help with job placement after graduation. We're able to work one-on-one with students and identify their strengths and weaknesses and adjust the curriculum accordingly, Boucher says.

But, the school is not immune to the economic realities of the recession. Students have found themselves unable to access student loans to help pay for the program, Boucher says. The school started its first session at the new location with seven students, though it has capacity for 12. We would be full right now if students had access to student loan money, Boucher says. Chez Boucher recently inked an agreement to allow students enrolled in the general studies program at Great Bay Community College to attend the culinary school and earn credits in culinary arts toward their degrees.

Chez Boucher has also diversified its offerings to make it more competitive. The school opens Friday evenings as an authentic French Bistro with food prepared by students in the program. Customers need to reserve seats and pre-order through the Web site. The menu for the bistro changes every week and offers four courses for $45. It is also courting the business-to-business entertainment market and can offer three-course meals for groups of up to 40 people. Businesses such as a chiropractor's office and a financial planning business have held presentations for clients at the school.

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