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Oregon Culinary Arts Training Success Stories

View some of the success stories from graduates of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland Cooking, Baking, Patisserie and Culinary Arts programs.

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Leigh Brown

Graduated: 2005, Western Culinary Institute
Degree: Associate of Occupational Studies Degree in Le Cordon Bleu Hospitality & Restaurant Management
Current Position: Urban Wineworks, Portland, OR

Leigh Brown’s career in the hospitality industry began with her interest in catering. After graduating as a music major and an accomplished harpist, Leigh sought out her next goal of working in the hospitality industry by obtaining another degree at Western Culinary Institute (WCI). Her initial decision of coming to Portland, Oregon from Indiana was the first of many life-changing experiences she made upon her choosing to work towards a culinary-related degree. She ultimately chose WCI because of its location and Portland’s livability and because, as she says, “The school excited me”.

Even though – or perhaps because – Leigh initially looked to WCI for training in the catering industry, she chose the Le Cordon Bleu Hospitality & Restaurant Management program for its combination of business management and culinary training. As a career-changing adventure, Leigh commented on her thorough enjoyment in meeting new friends, making new industry contacts and learning the many facets of the wine industry. Her commitment to her education was evident when she was selected for her externship with one of WCI’s instructors, John Eliassen, at his winery, La Bete. There Leigh learned more about wine making, grapes, the fermentation process and taste. These interests and her dedication to learning propelled Leigh to her current position at Urban Wineworks, a local wine shop and tasting center.

Today, Leigh works in the public relations department at Urban Wineworks in Portland, which houses the tasting room for Bishop Creek Cellars based in Yamhill, OR. She is a contributor to the shop’s newsletter. She also coordinates the tasting club and is an instructor for their open-to-the-public classes and for their private event tastings. Leigh was additionally a contributor to the Six Degrees Event, the celebration of Urban Winework’s sixth anniversary. Through her hard work and the knowledge gained at WCI, she was able to work her way up into this position.

Leigh’s goals in the hospitality industry continue as she looks to further her wine knowledge and possibly get into food writing. She expresses how WCI was great fit for her, but she urges others to find “the perfect fit” for each individual.

Western Culinary Institute is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

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Jennifer Fields

Graduated: 2008, Western Culinary Institute
Degree: Diploma in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts
Current Position: Owner, Savor Communications

What does high-tech corporate communication have in common with culinary school?

Nothing. And that is exactly why Jennifer Fields chose to study culinary arts at Western Culinary Institute (WCI). But not with high hopes of becoming a top chef, rather, because she had always loved to write.

“I remember speaking to my admissions representative about what I was looking for and it seemed unique to earn a culinary arts degree, and to not be a chef,” recalls Jennifer. “I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in food writing and I wanted to have the professional training and knowledge that chefs do to go out and write intelligently about the many facets of the food world.”

Jennifer researched a few schools in the Portland area, but was drawn to WCI due to its training in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts. She felt the Le Cordon Bleu program had the prestige and reputation and the ability to provide her with the important foundational skills of French cooking techniques.

“Now that I am out in the world and talking with chefs and magazine editors, I think the fact that I have formal culinary training makes me stand out,” explained Jennifer. “I can go into a restaurant and see braised rabbit with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms and rhubarb gastrique on the menu, and know how that dish was prepared and what it should taste like.”

Jennifer learned that culinary training is hard work and not the glamorous life TV culinary network shows often portray. It’s tough, physical and dirty. Your back aches, and your ankles get sore from the hours on your feet. And because of experiencing this environment first hand, Fields gained an even deeper respect for the industry.

Her favorite class was Meat & Seafood Identification and Fabrication where she took apart more chickens than she ever imagined possible; filleted a slew of fish and completely dismantled a squid. “We ground meat and made strands and strands of sausage. I was really taught to respect the food and appreciate where it came from. It might sound gory, but I felt so incredibly close to the source in that class and gained an appreciation for an important food source,” she says.

WCI helped Jennifer land an externship in the food section of Oregon’s only major daily newspaper – The Oregonian. She also started her own business, Savor Communications, working as a freelance food writer and communications consultant. Her daily foodie adventure blogs can be found at www.savorit.blogspot.com.

Jennifer plans to hone her foodie writing skills, and also expand to travel writing, and one day hopes to edit a food magazine. “I'm constantly looking at trends in the food industry and want to know what the next big thing will be. That's what's so great about the culinary world – it changes daily.”

Western Culinary Institute is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

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Brian Malarkey

Graduated: 1994, Western Culinary Institute
Degree:Diploma in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts
Current Position: Executive Chef and Operating Partner, The Oceanaire, San Diego, California

A native of Oregon, Brian Malarkey grew up inspired by the cooking of his grandmother in her beach house kitchen, where she was often joined by her old friend James Beard. After being seduced all his life by all the fresh seafood and abundant produce that the Oregon countryside has to offer, Brian enrolled in Western Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts program.

Upon completion, Brian set his sights on California, and sought the disciplines of the larger-than-life French Chef Michael Richard at Citrus in Los Angeles. After holding several positions in Chef Richard’s kitchen, Brian traveled abroad, eating his way through Europe and Northern Africa learning what food meant to different cultures.

Back in the states Brian followed his business sense to Minneapolis where he held several positions at prominent Twin Cities establishments including the Loring Café, and The Local before landing at The Oceanaire Seafood Room where he accepted the Sous Chef position. Brian returned to his beloved Pacific Northwest to open the Oceanaire’s Seattle restaurant in 2001 as Executive Sous Chef. Under the tutelage of Chef Rick Kimmes in Minneapolis and Chef Kevin Davis in Seattle, Brian blossomed into a promising young talent. In 2004, Brian and his wife Chantelle relocated to beautiful southern California to open The Oceanaire’s San Diego restaurant as Executive Chef and Operating Partner.

Today, Brian is the whole package. On any given day, you’ll find in the kitchen. At the same time, Brian practices marketing and public relations like a pro. This summer he made it to the final four on BRAVO Channel’s Top Chef, only to be cut at the finale in Aspen. According to Brian the best part of the Top Chef experience was the opportunity to grow as a chef. His advice: “Have fun and stretch yourself”.

Western Culinary Institute is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

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Rachel Noble

Graduated: 2005, Western Culinary Institute
Degree: Certificate in Le Cordon Bleu Pâtisserie and Baking
Current Position: Bakery Manager, Saint Cupcake, Portland, OR

Rachel Noble had never received formal training before coming to Western Culinary Institute (WCI), but she had been inspired to bake from a young age. Then a teacher for whom she had baked holiday treats suggested she go to culinary school, Rachel remembers she had never even considered the possibility of making a living doing something she loved. After seeing a television ad for Western Culinary Institute (WCI) while at another college, Rachel started looking seriously at culinary school. From her research, WCI was the only school in the area that offered a specific program for Pâtisserie and Baking that coupled with her interest in moving to the Pacific Northwest.

Rachel was impressed with the WCI chef instructors. From them she learned techniques and about the industry. She also made many friends in her classes. WCI’s career services department helped Rachel find her first job out of school; though it was the relationships she built while in school that ultimately gave her the opportunity at Saint Cupcake. Three of her classmates knew the owner of the bakery and they all thought the foursome would make a great working team.

Currently, Rachel is in charge of the daily operations — ordering, scheduling, hiring and leading a team of six bakers. Rachel says, “I love all the people I work with. Being a manager is great because my job is so challenging. I love my job and I can’t imagine a better one. So, I see myself working at Saint Cupcake for quite a long time!”

Western Culinary Institute is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

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Matthew Steele

Graduated: 2007, Western Culinary Institute
Degree: Associate of Occupational Studies Degree in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts
Current Position: Executive Chef, Casa Naranja, Portland, OR

Matthew Steele is happy to be cooking professionally, despite long hours in the tiny kitchen of Portland’s newly opened Casa Naranja. As Executive Chef, Matt developed the seasonal menu of Spanish-inspired small plates that he deftly prepares as orders come in. “It’s a really fun opportunity they’ve given me here to play around in the kitchen,” he said.

Matt’s mom was an excellent cook who didn’t use recipes, so “You would get an incredible meal, but you would never get it again,” he says. Since he had always helped in the kitchen, he came to realize that cooking was his calling. After gaining experience at several local restaurants and earning his degree, Matt applied for the chef position at Casa Naranja. Three days after the interview, Matt was in the kitchen and the restaurant was open for business.

Matt has crafted a menu that celebrates what’s in season. On a recent July evening, that included whole steamed artichokes served with truffle aioli; and a fish special of seared halibut with almond honey thyme sauce, served with grilled asparagus and baby red potatoes. All sauces are made in-house and products are locally sourced whenever possible.

On Matt’s arm is an elaborate artichoke tattoo with two crossed chef’s knives confirming that he is serious about great food. “I call it my culinary skull and crossbones,” he says, smiling. In a small kitchen like Casa Naranja’s, cooperation is critical. There are only three people on the line: grill and sauté, garde manger, and dishwasher, but everyone must be able to do everything, and all employees are valued. This suits Matt’s philosophy. “The respect and the professionalism go both ways,” he said. “I want people to feel like human beings when they come to work. I want them to be happy about cooking food.” He also wants his customers to be happy – so he keeps the menu comfortable and fun. The small plates are meant to be shared and combined, featuring flavors that mix well. The menu changes every three months, in keeping with the seasons.

Matt’s WCI training gave him confidence and know-how. “Going to culinary school definitely gave me a deeper understanding of food and what flavors go together,” he said. Matt advises students to ask questions if they want to learn as much as possible: “WCI chef instructors taught me so much. I use these skills in the kitchen every day.”

Western Culinary Institute is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

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