Chef Joe Bonaparte, executive director of ICI, talks about benefits of attending culinary school in a tourist town.
What distinguishes the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach from other schools?
We have the best features that you want in a small school. It’s part of a community college system and therefore very economical to attend. You could come to school here for 10 percent of the price of most private schools. And, the school is literally five minutes from the ocean.
And, it’s a dynamic job market, right?
Yes—there are so many restaurants and hotels down here that anybody and everybody who wants to be working is working. When people call up and want to sift through résumés and handpick students, I tell them people aren’t sitting around waiting to be handpicked; they’re all working. The community really supports us. They’d like to have a bigger pool of students and graduates to hire from.
What did the school’s recent $15 million facility upgrade entail?
Basically we redid the inside of the school. We designed something that would be super functional, with kitchens that are great for teaching. And we have an à la carte restaurant that’s way more than a school restaurant. It’s set up with a custom Montague island, a wood-burning grill, wood-burning oven, chef’s counter, and chef’s table. There’s nothing hidden; there’s contact with customers.
We also have a barbecue center and a hydroponics system in our greenhouse. We have a bunch of modern equipment like a rotovap (rotary evaporator), ultrasonic homogenizer, freeze dryer—things you don’t find a lot of places.
And how has the curriculum evolved?
Technology is great, but teaching touch and [sensory perception] and how to work with those senses is really important. It almost seems more important than it was 20 years ago because people have become so desensitized; everything is so digital and electronic. We have a plain, old wood-burning oven and wood-burning grill, and it’s good to be teaching students how to build a fire in the oven and how to monitor that. You really have to work with them to cultivate their sense of touch, smell, and taste.
We’re going to be the first program in the state to roll out a baking pastry associate’s degree. The other two schools in the state—the one in Charleston and the one in Greenville—have tracks in culinary, but they don’t have a stand-alone associate’s in baking pastry arts. We’re starting that program this summer.
Entrepreneurial classes are also a big part of the program since a lot of students who do baking and pastries want to own their own bakery.
Are you opening up the culinary school for tourists to attend vacation classes as well?
Yes, we offer a wide variety of continuing education classes for both locals and tourists. We have several kids’ camps taking place, and we are bringing in a barbecue competition guy from Chicago to teach a two-day barbecue class. We also have a bunch of cook-and-dine classes setup, as well as baking and pastry classes. It’s a bunch of fun stuff.