Instructors at Cascade Culinary Institute — the culinary school at Central Oregon Community College — don’t rely on recipes to teach their 80 students how to cook and bake.
This academic term, when students learn to make adobo fried chicken or salade niçoise with hot salmon, they’ll focus on mastering frying and roasting, which can be applied to various dishes, said Wayne Yeatman, chair of the Cascade Culinary Institute.
“We could do 10 dishes for 10 terms, and have the techniques be the same,” he said. “If you teach ratios and techniques, you don’t need the recipe.”
This flexible teaching style is perhaps one of many reasons why a national culinary professional organization deemed Cascade Culinary Institute as the best culinary school in Oregon — and one of the five best on the West Coast.
Earlier this month, the school received an exemplary accreditation from the Florida-based American Culinary Federation for both its programs — baking and pastries, and culinary arts. It is the only school in Oregon to receive this prestigious honor, according to the federation’s website.
COCC officials say this accreditation will not only help current students start careers at prestigious restaurants and bakeries, but it could also help attract potential new students to Cascade Culinary Institute.
“This organization, which is the biggest and best of its kind in the world, has said that we operate at the highest standard in their eyes,” said Yeatman. “It’s just an extra layer of confidence, that a student knows they’ll have a top-notch education.”
Representatives from the American Culinary Federation visit culinary schools once every few years to evaluate them on numerous aspects, Yeatman said. Typically, the representative will name a few infractions, and if the school addresses them within 90 days, the federation issues the accreditation.
However, if a school passes its evaluation with flying colors, the federation awards an exemplary accreditation,
The institute’s culinary arts program earned exemplary accreditation in 2014, but its baking and pastry program — which launched in 2012 — didn’t earn the honor until very recently. The federation won’t give a program exemplary accreditation on the first visit, so COCC had to wait until a representative returned in October 2020 to prove the pastry program was still performing above and beyond, Yeatman said.
“They want to see a second visit with the same results,” he said.
Although two other Oregon culinary schools, in Eugene and Coos Bay, have base-level accreditation from the federation, only Cascade Culinary has received exemplary marks. And just four other West Coast schools earned the same honor: Institute of Technology-Clovis and Orange Coast College in California, along with Bellingham Technical College and Seattle Culinary Academy in Washington.
This honor could help boost Cascade Culinary’s enrollment in the 2021-22 school year, Yeatman said. After a couple years of growth, the culinary school saw enrollment drop from about 100 to 80 students this school year due to COVID-19, he said.
Laurie Chesley, president of COCC, agreed that this exemplary accreditation could put Cascade Culinary on the map across the country.
“I think a distinction such as this is going to make us even better-known in the culinary realm nationally,” she said. “We’re certainly going to use it as a recruiting tool.”
Yeatman said graduates from the culinary school have gone on to work in prestigious restaurants — including Canlis, one of Seattle’s swankiest spots, and eateries in Austin, Texas, Chicago and the Napa Valley area.
A 2018 graduate, Nick Stanitas, stayed in Bend to start a restaurant: Mediterranean joint Kefi Fresh.
Stanitas wasn’t surprised that Cascade Culinary Institute received recognition. He appreciated its attention to detail, hands-on teaching approach and focus on avoiding food waste.
“Their thing was, ‘How can we work greener?’” Stanitas said. “Instead of throwing away parsley stems, (we) throw it in a stock. I don’t know if a lot of schools do that.”
Current student Avalon Peterson said the institute’s teachers — who are experienced and friendly — make the school stand out.
“You can tell that they love coming to work,” she said. “Everyone is really passionate about cooking and baking.”
Sam La Duca — an assistant professor of hospitality management at COCC who teaches many classes at Cascade Culinary Institute — said the school stands out because it has high goals for its students.
‘We don’t want our students to be line cooks; we want them to be executive cooks,” he said. “You’ve got to start (as a line cook) … but we want to set you up to be the leaders.”
Editor's note: This article has been corrected. The original version misspelled Nick Stanitas' last name. The Bulletin regrets the error.