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ACCLA: Moulding chefs for the high seas

In an era of super specialisations, Margao-based American College of Culinary & Language Arts focuses on training its students to become chefs on cruise liners. Parixit Pai Fondekar, director, ACCLA spoke to The Goan Everyday and explained how his course prepares his students for life ahead as a chef on some of the world’s most popular cruise liners. Karan Sehgal in conversation...

17th April 2017, 06:37 Hrs

The Goan: How did the idea of setting up an institute like American College of Culinary & Language Arts (ACCLA) come to you?   
Parixit Pai Fondekar: We set up ACCLA five years ago and even prior to that we had been in hospitality recruitment for 15 years. We realised that there was an acute shortage of skilled chefs in the market. In fact, we were unable to get quality chefs needed by our clients.   
At that point, we went back to our clients and asked them to collaborate with us to come with a training programme with the help of which we can give students the required foundation. In addition to that, we also collaborate with hotels to provide training to ensure that students get required skill-set. That’s how ACCLA came into being.   

TG: But, there are so many hotel-management institutes in India. How can there be a shortage of skilled chefs?   
PF: Hospitality industry is growing by leaps and bounds in India and also in Dubai, Qatar and several other places. Indians are the preferred manpower in these places. In nutshell, everyone is fishing from the same pool. The other reason for lack of skilled chefs is hotel management institutions in India aren’t able to deliver quality required by the market.   

TG: Could you please elaborate on this…   
PF: In a 3-year hotel management course, the focus is on training students to become a manager by teaching them front-office, house-keeping, food and beverages and many other aspects. If a student decides to become a chef after a 3-year-long course, then all such training will be of no use.   
The standard of infrastructure and course curriculum at most hotel management institutes are out-of-sync with reality. After doing such a course, a student realises that he’s not technically equipped and due to that he suffers and the industry suffers.   

TG: How did you deal with these issues at ACCLA?   
PF: We decided that our programme will be focussed on cruise culinary. We train our students for a particular position called trainee chef. We focus on European and Continental food because that’s what most people have on cruise liners.   
Based on this, we calculated number of hours required for the programme. So, we have a 3-month course, which is followed by a 6-month training in hotels. The training is actually monitored internship during which the students report to us and we monitor their progress.   
We monitor what they are learning, what sections they are working so that appropriate action can be taken, when there’s a need. This is done to ensure that our students meet the industry’s requirement and that’s the reason we have 100 percent placement record.   
Remember, a hotel management graduate after 3 years of course will start at the same level as a person who has 3-month certification. So, a student, who does a 3-month course like we have followed by 6 months of training, has around 2 years of head-start over someone who has done a 3 year course.   

TG: What is your batch-size and fee structure etc?   
PF: We have 20 students in a batch. Each student has to participate in practical, wherein he or she has to prepare dishes from scratch and also make a presentation. Practicals are mostly individual. They later work in teams as well when they have to do larger menu.   
We charge Rs 1.5 lakh fees per student for the 3-month programme. There is no fees for the six month training. In fact, during the training, hotels pay stipend to students.   
We start a new batch every 45 days. When we start a new batch, the older batch is already done with half the three-month programme. We run one batch in theory sessions and another batch in practicals and then they switch. We also focus on soft skills and interview skills.   

TG: Can you describe what kind of a life chefs have on a cruise liner?   
PF: Being a seafarer comes with lot of sacrifices. You are on a ship for eight straight months with no off days. Besides, you need to really know your job, as getting any assistance from outside the ship is impossible. Understand it this way – The number of crew is limited because one extra crew member means one less guest!   
So the day you join a cruise liner, you need to know your job really well. Moreover, all the guests on the cruise liner will have all their meals made by you. In nutshell, your job is far more difficult than working in a hotel on land. But, the best part is you gain valuable experience on cruise liner and when you come back to land, the market acknowledges that value.   

TG: Which are some popular cruise liners your students are placed on?   
PF: Some of the famous cruise-liners our students are placed on are Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and Thomson Cruises   

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