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Jun 29, 2022, 2:53
Culinary Instructor Earns Slot on Inaugural Reality Cooking Show
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Culinary Instructor Earns Slot on Inaugural Reality Cooking Show

28 February 2022

From Netflix to the culinary classroom: Students learn tricks of the trade from their instructor who learned from the industry’s best.

By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor
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SchoolofChocolate Season1 Episode1 00 03 27 11 smallCulinary Instructor Amanda Miller wasn’t looking for a food competition show. Sure, in the past she’d thought about it. She even previously applied to be a contestant. But, the Culinary Institute of Michigan (CIM) pastry chef was hunkered down at home, remotely teaching culinary classes when the call came in. It was March 2020 and Netflix producers were searching for contestants when they came across Miller’s Instagram page. The casting producers didn’t give her many details but said enough to pique her curiosity. She agreed to try out. And it turns out, Miller made the inaugural eight-episode season of “School of Chocolate” featuring French pastry chef Amaury Guichon.SchoolofChocolate Season1 Episode3 00 21 50 10 web

This reality show is different with all contestants competing to the end, in other words, no loser is sent home packing their palette knives. “School of Chocolate” featured two competitions per round that challenged eight chefs to produce chocolate products created from a challenging new technique taught by Chef Amaury. The first competition lasted four-and-a-half hours with the top two challenge winners picking teams to compete in a 14-hour challenge the next day. The bottom two chefs from the first round received one-on-one coaching from Chef Amaury but did not participate in the second challenge. All eight chefs competed in the final challenge, which saw the winner or Best in Class earning a teaching spot at Guichon’s Pastry Academy in Las Vegas and receiving $50,000.

Hellboy Screen Shot 2022 02 28 at 4.37.59 PMFrom March to June 2020, Miller participated in Zoom interviews and created and either photographed or recorded herself making plated desserts and chocolate sculptures. “Creating the pieces was tough. The school was shut down and I didn’t have the equipment I needed at home. I asked the College’s president for permission to use the culinary kitchen. He was so supportive and said yes. I had to be the only person in the kitchen,” Miller said. The pastry chef discovered she made the cut and would spend a month and a half in Los Angeles during October and November covertly filming. The show finally aired – and the secret of her participation was revealed to students, colleagues and the public – in November 2021.

Chef Miller thinks the producers took note of her chocolate Hellboy and Minion sculptures posted on her Instagram account.Minion Screen Shot 2022 02 28 at 4.39.08 PM

Although Miller did not win Best in Class, the experience profoundly affected her and ultimately her culinary arts students. The army veteran and winner of the 2020 Sysco/CAFE Postsecondary Educator of the Year award has always been revered by her students as a leader. The show ignited a new drive and passion in Miller. “Personally, it helped pushed me. Helped me think outside the box. To really believe in myself. I’m better at teaching that than I am living it,” she said. “Chef Amaury showed me what I was capable of. Now, I have a new fire and passion.”

That can-do attitude is matriculating to her students and their plans for ACF competitions. “I am going to be giving them new tricks to hold up their sleeves,” she said. “As an instructor, I want to share what I learned and ignite the students’ passions too.”

SchoolofChocolate Season1 Episode8 00 09 26 05 2 webMiller was disappointed one conversation between Chef Amaury and the eight contestants did not air. “He talked about not selling ourselves short,” she explained. Chef asked how much participants would charge for a particular sculpture and each person said a couple of hundred dollars. Chef said he would charge thousands for the same piece. “He highlighted how undervalued pastry chefs are by the public,” Miller said. “People do not understand the days-long process it takes to make chocolate and pastries. I think it would have been helpful to open customers’ eyes.”

A change the show inspired in Miller has been how she manages her social media accounts. “Before, I never took pictures of my creations. I never thought it was extraordinary and that I was just doing my job. Now, I take pictures of everything.” Before the show airing, Miller had barely 100 followers and now boasts more than 11,500 on Instagram. Two questions keep coming up on her social media feed: How did you make the fruit sushi? Was your bowtie made of chocolate? (Answers: the fruit sushi is a plated dessert CIM offers in their onsite restaurant and the bowtie was actually made of wood but she and her fellow participants picked that one to wear as it looked the most like chocolate.)

Being selected for “School of Chocolate” has changed some aspects of Miller, however she remains grounded in her teaching and students. “At first the students were surprised I was on the show,” she said. “Some thought it was awesome and cool to learn with me. Others were like ‘meh.’ There were a variety of reactions. But now the students are moving right along. They have the show contestant in real life they can learn from.”