For many, cooking is hobby to be enjoyed at home with friends and family; but for others it is a career that brings them around the world to work in different kitchens and resorts. Chef Pascal Dionet opened the non-profit Classic Cooking Academy in 2007 to give Arizona an affordable, high-quality alternative to the larger for-profit cooking schools.
With a focus on classic French cuisine as well as Native American dishes, Classic Cooking Academy gives back to the community by focusing on healthy food that strives to turn heads and change minds. We spoke with Chef Pascal about his growing business.
After seeing the price tag of culinary schools rise up to $50,000 Chef Pascal Dionet realized that the valley needed an affordable cooking school that provides expert instruction at the highest level.
“An entry level cook will start anywhere between minimum wage and 10 dollars an hour,” said Dionet. “Cooking schools that are charging $50,000 are basically putting students in jeopardy of paying their student loan back. In fact, many default on their loans; it’s a big fiasco.”
Classic Cooking Academy’s non-profit status allows Chef Pascal to offer a program similar to other culinary institutes for half the price. This gives Classic Cooking Academy the opportunity to help members of the community who want further their skills, but not be crippled by debt.
Additionally, Dionet gives his students real work experience by having them engage in a catering event every six months.
“It’s really about involving the students in every stage of the process. The students plan the menu, purchase the ingredients, prepare the food, keep the food cold or hot and warm it for the guests. It’s a great experience for our students,” Dionet said.
Classic Cooking Academy’s main focus is to teach traditional French cooking techniques, but what sets CCA apart is the additional emphasis on Native American food.
“We are the only school in the state that has a Native American component,” said Pascal, “Something interesting most people don’t know is that before contact between Europeans and Native Americans the entire world did not know about potatoes, tomatoes, squash, corn or chocolate.”
Once a week students at CCA prepare a meal with only native ingredients like the mesquite flower, Cholla bud, acorn flower, and tepary beans. The purpose of this is to both preserve native flavors and educate the native community about health risks.
Keeping the Community Healthy
Classic Cooking Academy also gives back by doing outreach with native communities. CCA conducts cooking seminars and teaches native children about maintaining a proper diet. Dionet is passionate about the growing diabetes epidemic both in native communities and the U.S. in general.
“I don’t know anything about medicine but I do know about food, and that diabetes can be controlled through diet and medicine. So, we handle the diet part and teach people how to eat better. The country is on a slippery slope with obesity and health.”
Dionet believes that U.S’s growing obesity epidemic is based in misinformation.
“The biggest problem in America is not fat–it is sugar and carbs. Once America can realize that, we will actually lose weight. The food industry has demonized the word fat,” said Dionet. “When people are thinking of fat they associate butter with the fat over their belt, the two have nothing to do with one another. The fat above the belt comes from sugar and carbs.”
So if this is a cooking academy, I’ll be learning recipes, right? Nope, Chef Pascal’s curriculum focuses solely on technique.
“Cooking is not about recipes it is about technique. I teach students how to cook for the moment,” said Dionet. “You wouldn’t make the same soup in the summer that you would make in the winter.”
“We are an affordable school that is half the cost of other schools in town. This is the only school with a classically trained French chef teaching and that counts for something. We are serious about what we do. When we start with 15 students we want to finish with 15 students. I want the whole group to work together and progress together, “said Chef Pascal Dionet
Classic Cooking Academy is a Scottsdale based culinary school that specializes in classical French cuisine and Native American fare. European trained Founder Chef Pascal Dionet boasts over 30 years’ experience in fine dining and has held the position of Executive Chef at several notable Washington D.C. restaurants including the historic Hay-Adams Hotel.