magnify Click image to view more.

Want Good Help?

Martin Gillam / November 2012

An Australian hotel meets the problem of finding qualified staff head on by founding its own school.

“You wouldn’t believe how many young Australian chefs don’t know how to use a knife properly,” sighs André Smaniotto, a man who is determined to change all that.

Smaniotto is training manager for Melbourne’s Crown, the country’s biggest hotel and casino complex, with 6,500 employees. To keep its staff’s service skills up to par, Crown has built an ambitious $10 million teaching academy inside the hotel itself, taking up more than an entire floor. Opened in 2010, Crown College teaches all of the hospitality and gaming skills to an industry-recognized certificate level. Its Food and Beverage School, which Smaniotto helped design, has already won awards as the nation’s best.

When Crown decided to launch its college, it asked him to lay out a blueprint for what the culinary school should be. His main focus was to go “back to basics,” to create an antidote to such problems as poor knife skills.

Crown College takes on about 30 apprentice chefs each year, about two-thirds from within its own hotel staff and the rest from other restaurants in Australia and overseas—and there’s already a waiting list. Crown employees attend at the company’s expense, regardless of the qualifications they already have. External apprentices’ employers pay $880 per year per student.

Students are divided into groups of eight, each spending four full days per month at the school (most have regular jobs as well). From the very start, they are tossed in at the deep end. “It’s not just classroom learning, we want them to know how to run a restaurant,” says Koh. “Half their time is spent learning theory and practical mis en place, and the rest is spent in a working restaurant. Crown has 43 outlets, so they work in everything from casual and fine dining to banquets for 2,000 people.” Students also work in the school’s own 70 seat restaurant and bar, Culinarium, which opens two days a week to serve Crown staff and their guests.

The school’s modern kitchen has all the latest equipment—sous-vide machines, a water bath, Pacojet—and all the lessons are recorded on DVD for student review. And because Crown attracts some of the world’s top chefs for guest appearances in its restaurants, the apprentices have had master classes from the likes of Thierry Marx, Stéphane Bour, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre, and Jun Yukimura.

Students who complete the culinary school’s three year course earn a basic hospitality diploma that qualifies them to work in a professional kitchen. Those completing the four year course win qualification as a sous chef or chef de partie. “We also do front-of-the-house training, the only school in Australia that does,” says Smaniotto.

Smaniotto says he based the school curriculum on his own training in France, as well as on what he learned from visiting some of the world’s great cooking schools.

“We teach our students why they must know the basics. The best way is to make them taste, taste, taste. You can have a dish that looks amazing but has no flavor, so our apprentices always have a spoon in their hands,” he continues.

“One way to measure a good cook is by how well he or she can make a stock. An amazing number cannot. We want our students to be able to make a beef consommé with real flavor that can sit in a fridge overnight and form a beautiful gel—then we know they’re on the right track. “My aim is to be able to look around a few years from now and see that some of Australia’s top chefs are Crown graduates—then I’ll know we’ve achieved something.”