For the second time in its 71-year history, the Culinary Institute of America, with four campuses in the U.S., including one in Napa Valley, has more female than male students by just over 51 percent.
Another culinary program in Santa Rosa also noted more female students than males. In both cases, the shift could be due to the influence baking programs have on gender balances.
Cynthia Keller, CIA associate dean for culinary arts, chef and former restaurant owner, told Northeast Public Radio last year the rise in female students can be attributed to the addition of a baking and pastry program and the Bachelor of Arts program.
At the St. Helena campus, 80 percent to 90 percent of students in the bakery and pastry program are female. That’s compared to the culinary program, which is about 60 percent male, according to Jennifer Purcell, director of education for the CIA at Greystone. Purcell also has an extensive background in the field including executive chef as Kaffeehaus Restaurant, in New York; La Luna Ristorante, Bethesda, Maryland; and Hyatt Regency Hotels & Resorts, Reston, Virginia.
Why do female students gravitate more towards the bakery and pastry program?
“I’m really not sure other than perhaps they started baking at an early age. I do find the ‘ilk’ of student quite different between baking and pastry versus that of culinary,” Purcell said. “The environment and food medium are very different from a bake/chocolate shop and that of a professional kitchen. Baking and pastry is primarily predetermined and prepared in advance with the work itself quite exacting, requiring strict recipe adherence and science, versus culinary where it can be a bit more open, though still entails science but not traditionally at the levels of bakery and pastry.”
Also, “the culinary space is often more dynamic, loud and stressful in say a restaurant where “a la minute” (cooked to order) dishes are prepared. Bakeshops tend to be more Zen like to me,” she said.
While the culinary side of the programs are still male dominated, “I don’t think there’s anywhere where women are not involved. There are lots of women in charcuterie and artisan butchery programs,” Keller said.
At the culinary arts program at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma County, “on average I would say for our culinary program the ratio is something like 60 percent male, and in baking and pastry program it is more like 60 percent female,” said Shelly Kaldunski chef, instructor, and baking and pastry coordinator in the Culinary Arts Department.
Chef Jim Cason, department chair, agrees.
“While I was in the industry I can confidently say it was a male-dominated profession. Since I started teaching full time in 2007 … (w)e seem to run a very even split (between males and females) overall, but it seems to be more females in baking and pastry and more males in culinary, but not by much and it’s not like that every semester. In one of my recent Café classes (the one that runs the restaurant), it was an unusually small class and was 100 percent female. They were a spectacular team.”
Data from career services at the CIA also show the baking and pastry students are more entrepreneurial, as opposed to graduating to work on a team at a restaurant. Instead, they open bake shops and bakery cafes, making wedding cakes or specialty chocolates.