Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, is a private post-secondary culinary school located at Virginia College in Birmingham. Founded in 2000, the school offers training in general culinary arts with some specializations and features students' creations in its restaurant, which is open to the public. Although still in its relative infancy, the institute has expanded its degree offerings and adapted to include continuing education and pre-college programs.
In 2000, Virginia College (a for-profit degree-granting institution founded in 1983) invested $2 million in the establishment of Culinard and transformed the former Fifth Quarter restaurant in Homewood, just south of Birmingham, into the cooking school 195 Mizan Plaz. The name is a play on the French culinary phrase mise en place, which roughly translates as "everything in place." In July 2002, Culinard expanded to include a 5,000-square-foot bakery on Vulcan Road in Homewood to house its Pastry, Baking, and Confectionary Arts Program.
Chef Jill Bosich was named the school's first dean, soon after a gold-medal finish in cold food preparation at the 2000 International Culinary Olympics, officially called the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA), a global culinary competition held in Germany every four years since 1900. Celebrated executive pastry chef Susan Notter, who was Bosich's gold-medal teammate at the 2000 IKA competition, was named dean of the pastry program. In 2004, top pastry chef Antony Osborne, whose résumé boasts work in Thailand, Singapore, and Australia, was hired as dean of the pastry program and took over as dean of the Culinard Institute in early 2005.
The institute offers a bachelor's degree in culinary arts management; occupational associates degrees in culinary arts and in pastry, baking and confectionary arts, and a diploma in culinary arts. Students progress from kitchen fundamentals to more advanced skills such as bakery, garde manger (specialized preparation of cold foods), and charcuterie (preparation of cured meats), and on to more specialized coursework such as patissiere (baking of French pastries). The programs culminate in an internship at the restaurant. Each program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Career prospects for graduates vary. Entry-level chefs can expect salaries in the low $20,000 range, but some chefs with executive credentials earn six-figure salaries.
The culinary school has expanded its scope to offer high school students educational opportunities in its commercial kitchens, enabling youths to earn credits and acquire kitchen skills. The non-degree program "Weekend at Culinard" offers courses such as "Sushi Basics," "Competition Barbecue," and "Taste of Tuscany," joining a weekend "Kids Cuisine" program to provide enrichment for Birmingham-area residents not seeking professional training.
Birmingham has been home to a culinary program at Jefferson State Community College since 1990, attracting mainly local residents. The Culinard Institute however, with its private-college tuition costs exceeding $30,000, casts a wider recruiting net, with the aim of competing globally in the field of culinary education. The culinary program regularly enrolls about 200 students, with a teacher-student ratio between 6:1 and 20:1, depending on the nature of the course.