Le Cordon Bleu is thrilled to have talented Chef and Culinary teacher Tracie Bernard as a new student, thanks to the impressive feat of securing a James Beard Scholarship.
A cookbook author and teacher, James Beard was a champion of cuisine, helping educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today the Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by offering a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture.
The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program helps aspiring culinary students realise their dreams by supporting them on a path to success in the rewarding world of the hospitality industry. Professional grants enable those already working in the industry to gain experience and hone their skills.
And to celebrate Tracie’s achievement, we have asked her a few questions to see how she is enjoying the experience of studying the Le Cordon Bleu Master of Gastronomic Tourism
Have you always known what you wanted to do? If so, when was the moment you realized you wanted to work with food?
I didn’t come to the cooking arena until later in life. I was 32 when I started culinary school. One day I stopped and asked myself “Where will I be in thirty years, let alone five?” I envisioned myself trapped in a cubicle mastering the mundane.
I wanted more than to keep myself fed and sheltered. I needed something better than a job or even a career. I yearned for something that I could grow with for a lifetime. Something that not only allowed for creative expression but also thrived on its sheer existence. For me, it is cooking. I don’t just love to cook, I live to cook. Once I discovered this passion, the path was clear…. become a chef.
What were the keys to your career advancement? How do you think you got where you are today?
You do not go anywhere unless you get out in the middle of the road. I was willing to move to another town, another state and even another country. These were the scariest moments but also the most exciting. I put myself in kitchens where I was surrounded by massive amounts of skill and talent. I was willing to learn from anyone willing to teach me. I kept seeking the next level; I am still seeking the next level. I am where I am today because once I was on the road, I never stopped the journey.
How did it feel to win the James Beard Foundation Scholarship?
I have always written for scholarships to help fund my education. However at this level, there are fewer funding opportunities and the pool of applicants is formidable. A JBF Scholarship is more than aid with tuition. It is a nod of approval from leaders in our industry by choosing you from the best of the best. So when the envelope arrived, I waited to open it. I wanted to be with friends to either celebrate or commiserate.
I didn’t actually read the award letter at first, I scanned for the tell tale word of “Congratulations!” After a few times through, I passed it to someone else to read to confirm that, YES! I had gotten the award. If I was a light bulb, I was glowing bright enough to shine on my entire neighbourhood. We popped open a bottle of wine in celebration.
What stood out about the Le Cordon Bleu Master of Gastronomic Tourism that made you choose to study it?
I had looked at the program at Le Cordon Bleu a number of years before but decided that training abroad was the next step for me. Now in a different phase of my career, I once again looked at master programs worldwide dealing with gastronomy. I didn’t want to spend my time learning business; my business was food.
I had applied and was accepted to three different universities in three different countries. Each had benefits and each had drawbacks. Le Cordon Bleu won because it offered a program that I could apply not only in my current position as a culinary instructor, but also for future incarnations of my career. It allowed me to keep working as a teacher, which I love, instead of sacrificing an entire year of my career to pure education. It wasn’t the least expensive program but offered the most financial advantages, as I wouldn’t have to move or give up my active income. And of course, there were scholarships available to help pay the way.
How do you feel this course will enhance your years of experience as a Chef?
When I trained in Europe, it gave me a whole different perspective on peoples’ relationship with food. Not only did I learn about different ingredients and cooking techniques, I learned about culture. I approach food differently. I look at dishes and menus from different angles, ask more questions, seek more than cooking aiming to provide an experience.
The courses I am taking are allowing me insight into new realms through the views of my fellow students. Not only am I getting Australian feedback, but also the take from Asia, the outlook form the UK and input from many other areas of the world. We are a global society. Understanding worldviews of food, make me more capable as a chef of serving a broader clientele more successfully.
How have you enjoyed the course so far?
I am only in my second class, however I would have to say Discussions in Food and Wine Technology has been really interesting as we talk about food science on multiple continents. Because the students are from all over the world, we are bringing different cultures, views and thoughts on the same subject. From ranchers to chefs to hoteliers, we all have a very different take on food and its meaning. Interacting gives the unique experience you can’t find in the regular classroom. What are the trends in your country? What is the social normal in this situation? How is the tourism industry handling that? It really gives us a multi-dimensional metropolitan view of our field.
What do you think distinguishes Gastronomic Tourism from normal Tourism?
Considering that there is an entire network devoted to food and that chefs are celebrities, focusing on travel based on gastronomy was a natural evolution. We no longer fill our bellies and take in the sites…the places we eat are part of the experience. Great food equals great experiences. Taste and Smell are the most powerful memory triggers and getting a familiar whiff of that dish we had in Italy immediately takes us back.
And why do you think people in the Gastronomic Tourism sector would benefit from further study?
This is new territory and although we may have a handle on one small market in one small area, we service the entire world. To not study, research and continue learning about this field is just leaving yourself behind.
What would you like to share from your experience with the other students and teachers of the Master of Gastronomic Tourism? Get connected with each other. Swap emails, Skype, Face Time, meet face to face…whatever media you use…talk to each other and share your opinions, views, ideas, stories…. we have so much knowledge it would be a shame not to use our educational program as a place of connection. Discover.
If you had one piece of advice for a new student, what would it be?
For the new culinarian, don’t be content with what you learn in the classroom alone. Expand your knowledge with experience. Ask that chef if you can intern for the weekend. Stop in that specialty deli and ask how their sausage is made. READ! For the advanced student, cross the corridor at work and see what is happening in the other aspects of our industry? Leave the kitchen and walk in the lobby. Talk to the marketing managers. Be their student. Learn their aspect of the business so you can do yours better.