Think Tank

Dec 18, 2017, 14:33
Consider a Lifetime of Stackable Certifications

Consider a Lifetime of Stackable Certifications

When and where should skills such as social media management and managerial accounting be taught? Chef Paul Sorgule suggests that perhaps it should not be in the traditional classroom.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

If you step back and take a serious look at the career path of a cook, to chef, to entrepreneur, you will note that at each phase of that career the individual is in need of significantly different skill sets.

It is also interesting to note that these skill sets, to a large degree, are sequential – they only become relevant when the position demands it. This, in many respects, is contrary to the way we look at building a curriculum. Courses in human resource management, managerial accounting, or marketing have very little relevance in the second year of a culinary degree, but courses that focus on cooking skills are paramount. The other reality is that so much of what a chef or restaurateur does changes at breakneck speed – thus a course dedicated to certain topics may be obsolete before a student is able to apply the concepts taught.

This begins to give credibility to viewing a degree in a different way. The current format for degree credentialing is nearly the same as it was 50 years ago or more. How much of the environment that foodservice professionals work in has changed in those same 50 years? So, what might the answer be?

There are pockets of “Think Tanks” where educators are beginning to question the model of higher education - giving due consideration to alternatives. With all of the internal and external factors that are applying pressure to schools offering programs that are considered “job preparatory,” it is imperative that we actively consider alternatives and the potential for success.

Stackable certifications that are fluid, contemporary, progressive, and user-friendly may very well be an option for culinary schools in the future. Additionally, if these programs are flexible enough to be freestanding and stackable while leading to a degree, then both students and educational institutions stand to benefit.

Think about the nature of course content and when it is most relevant and you will see the benefits to both individuals and institutions:

Stage in Career Relevant Content at that Time User-friendly Method of Delivery

Entry Level – cook


*Sanitation and Safety

*Foundational Cooking Methods

*Advanced Cooking Methods

*Foundations of Baking

*Garde Manger

*International Cooking

*Introduction to Food Industry

* Product Identification

* Foundational Communication Skills

*Team Building

* Culinary Math

* Introductory Cost Controls

* Internship

Best offered in a more traditional, on-site and hands-on format – either in a school setting and/or at internship/externship/ apprenticeship sites.

Sous Chef


* Human Resource Management

* Menu Planning & Purchasing

* Systems and Production Planning

* Intro to Operations Management

These courses can be offered online or through hybrid programs that provide very short residencies or a series of workshops and seminars with application projects.

Executive Chef


* Financial Accounting

* More Human Resource Management

* Intro to Marketing

* Leadership Training

* Facilities Planning

* Contemporary Cooking Techniques

This content might be best offered in workshop format where there is ample time for chefs to interact with other individuals in the same type of position. Content experts and consultants who can deliver succinct, dynamic presentations and provide follow-up reference on these topics would be most relevant to this audience.




*Social Media Management

*Systems Management

*Managerial Accounting

*Restaurant Law

*Conflict Resolution

*Concept Development

This content is best offered through intense, interactive workshops and seminars, retreats and conferences, and short residencies that bring like-minded individuals together in an effort to walk through their own operational challenges with a cohort group. Online resources will help to keep managers up-to-date with changes in these areas.

Assuming all of these skills are relevant to a student who is also working through the challenges of learning to cook may not make sense any more. The content becomes most relevant when it can be applied to everyday challenges. To this end, the current education model should be re-evaluated.

Stackable certifications with focus on relative content to a careerist when it is needed would have the greatest impact. Whether a school designs these certifications to lead toward a degree is up to the institution. If we can agree that one of our primary responsibilities is to prepare students to be successful, then the degree takes a back seat to the significance of skills certification at each level.

This is obviously a departure from the way that colleges currently do business, but I would ask: “Is it worth consideration and discussion?”


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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