Chef Sarah Gorham
The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Atlanta
Over 20 years in the field
Chef Sarah Gorham has more than experience under her belt, she has a wealth of knowledge to impart to students in her current position as the department chair for The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Atlanta,
Gorham has achieved admirable success in the industry. She holds both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Hotel and Restaurant Management and Hospitality Management from the University of Wisconsin. And in addition to receiving numerous culinary competition medals, she was one of the first female executive chefs for Marriott Hotels and Resorts. When given the opportunity, Gorham jumped at the chance to teach postsecondary education, despite her thriving career as a chef. Here are some of her tips for success:
Choose the Right Hospitality Management Training Program
Based on her own experiences, Gorham believes that the road to success as a hospitality manager industry begins with choosing the right 2-year or 4-year hospitality management training program. But it's not easy finding "the one" among all the culinary schools out there, she acknowledges.
First and foremost, Gorham says, prospective students should research the school's accreditation. Culinary school accreditation ensures a high level of educational quality. A national or regional accreditation agency is preferable. For instance, the programs at The Art Institute of Atlanta are accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the culinary arts programs are also accredited by the American Culinary Federation, a recognized organization with high standards for culinary schools.
Gorham also advises applicants to review the school's curriculum closely.
"Ask yourself, does this program meet my career goals, and will it be a good fit with my lifestyle? What will my schedule be like? If I have a part-time job or a family, should I consider a program with online or evening classes? And what kinds of jobs do graduates of this program start out in?"
Invest in the Future Through Education
Gorham's feels that her biggest challenge as an educator is helping students make the most of every educational opportunity they have. "If they're not in class, and if they're not taking advantage of externships or other professional opportunities, they won't be learning."
She says students should look at education as an investment—with the return on that investment being a fulfilling hospitality manager career.
At Gorham's school, students reaching the end of their educational journey get the opportunity to combine their culinary skills and business knowledge in the senior culinary practicum. This is Gorham's favorite class to teach.
"The senior practicum is a practical course that develops a restaurant concept and theme, and develops a menu and wines to pair with it," she says. "It also includes marketing. We give students a budget, and they develop a business plan and actually implement it."
At the end of the course, students receive an evaluation based on real customer satisfaction responses, which, Gorham says, adds to both the fun and the challenge for her students.
Training Plus Work Experience Equals Success
With the popularity of culinary-inspired reality shows, interest in culinary schools has increased. While this is good for hospitality management training programs in general, for students, when enrollment grows, so does competition for jobs.
"It's the education and the experience that will create opportunities upon graduation," Gorham emphatically states, "Gaining experience is the best way for a student to stand out from his or her peers."
Taking her advice, most of Gorham's students work at least part-time jobs. But students entering the program with little work experience shouldn't despair. "If they don't have experience coming into the program, they get it by the end through internships and externships," she explains.
Hone Your Skills
Time management skills are vital for any restaurant manager, whether they work in the front or back of the house. Students who can balance the requirements of all their classes with their deadlines at work will gain all the skills necessary to thrive in the industry, according to Gorham.
"Build speed, confidence and a sense of urgency, while maintaining professionalism at work," she advises.
Your Future is Flexible
There is no cookie-cutter career path for someone with a culinary degree. According to Gorham, students can take a number of positions, from basic entry-level positions in restaurants to personal chefs. "Research and development chefs are a growing segment of our industry, and there is a huge need for culinary educators—especially in high schools," she says.
Graduates of a hospitality management training program have a versatile degree—and it comes with a wealth of opportunities.
"Opportunities are abundant for hard-working and qualified professionals entering this industry," Gorham says. "Success will come from choosing the right school, getting the most out of your education, and a committing yourself to excellence before and after graduation."