Entree to chef's career

Chefs: At Baltimore International College, many students who have lost interest in purely academic pursuits find their calling in the kitchen.

March 26, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Like many in the area, Deborah Harari's first knowledge of Baltimore International College occurred when she was stuck in traffic on South Calvert Street and saw the students in their school uniforms -- white chef's outfits -- standing around the school's downtown buildings.

Planning to go to law school and not too enthusiastic about it, Harari decided to check the place out. These white-jacketed people were learning to do for a living what she did for fun -- cook.

"I wanted to do something with my life that would let me wake up and be happy all day," says Harari, who has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore and should get her associate's degree in baking and pastry this year.

Perhaps the most unusual institution in the panoply of higher education in Maryland, Baltimore International College teaches its 800 students standard subjects such as English, mathematics and psychology. But its specialty is teaching cutting and mincing and kneading and basting and broiling and such.

From the point of view of BIC President Roger R. Chylinski, this is as valid as instruction in engineering or computer science.

"In the state of Maryland, there is so much emphasis on technology these days," Chylinski says. "That's fine and wonderful, but the reality is that the hospitality and tourism industry is the second-biggest employer in this region.

"We place 98 percent of our graduates," he says, estimating that the school gets three job inquiries for every student getting a degree. In addition to its culinary training, BIC offers a business and management degree designed for the hospitality industry.

The school's beginnings go back three decades to when Chylinski joined Community College of Baltimore and started programs in dietary technology and restaurant and hotel management. That grew into the Food Administration Institute, which became the Culinary Arts Institute.

He had the idea for spinning it into a separate institution just as city leaders were getting the idea of developing the Inner Harbor. Hoping to attract a major hotel chain with promises of an educated work force, they handed Chylinski city-owned buildings in 1973. The school separated from CCB and went private in 1978.

The school began by granting certificates and then associate's degrees. Last year, the Maryland Higher Education Commission gave Baltimore International College approval to grant a bachelor's degree. The school will hand out its first bachelor of arts degree this year. Chylinski says he soon will apply for approval for a master's degree and a teacher certification program.

He has no apologies about giving sheepskins to students who might learn more about sharp knives than Shakespeare.

"The tests we give students, like the SAT, measure a certain kind of intelligence," Chylinski says. "Myself, I was never able to think about things like math and science abstractly. But put a pound of butter and 14 ounces of flour and a number of eggs in front of me and I can divide them up and combine them."

Chylinski says he often hears from parents of students who had foundered throughout their academic careers but found themselves at BIC.

"I think the reason for that is no one has ever told them that they could do anything well," he says. "They get here and do something, and an instructor tells them it looks nice, and they start believing they can do something."

BIC graduate Greg Hare agrees. He says he was an indifferent student who first tried engineering and then prelaw at Anne Arundel Community College before dropping out.

"I was always a cut-up, never doing anything right," he says. "But I always liked to cook, from the time I could reach a stove."

A couple of years in the work force, Hare decided to give BIC a try. He found his calling.

"I needed to get my hands on things," he says of finally doing well in school.

After graduating, Hare worked his way up to executive chef at an area restaurant before returning to the BIC fold as chef at the restaurant at Mount Vernon Hotel, where he instructs students who intern in the kitchen.

The hotel is part of BIC's expanding real estate empire. The school started in two buildings on Gay Street, but now has facilities in several downtown buildings -- the four-story Calvert Center on South Calvert Street, a neighboring building on Water Street, a block away in the Commerce Exchange on Commerce Street and in the old Merchant's Club on Redwood Street.

In addition to operating Mount Vernon Hotel on Franklin Street, the school runs the Hopkins Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Charles Village. A Little Italy center will operate out of the former David E. Weglein Elementary School at Pratt Street and Central Avenue, and BIC has been promised the recently closed Haussner's Restaurant building in Highlandtown.

The school also owns a hotel and restaurant complex in County Cavan, Ireland, putting the "international" in its name. Students spend from two to 15 weeks there, some taking classes, some working in the kitchen or hotel.

"Students here range from 18-year-olds right out of high school to a retired dentist fulfilling a lifelong ambition of opening a bakery," says Chylinski.

At 26, Harari is the average age of a BIC student. "I've loved it," she says. "At the end of one day, I look forward to the beginning of the next one."

Now that she has joined the white-jacketed crew on South Calvert Street, she knows what those uniforms mean -- a simple skull cap and a white kerchief for a first-year student, a higher hat and checkered kerchief for a second year, a full chef's toque for a professor.

"I just feel sorry for all those people stuck in traffic," she says.

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