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It’s difficult for a working chef to find the time and money for a mid-career catch-up on the latest in culinary skills, tastes and trends. But if you can find the time, Hormel Foods will put up the money to send you and 15 other mid-career foodservice professionals to the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, NY, campus for a quartet of intense three-day instructional sessions. Interested? You’d better get going; the application deadline is August 1.

The Culinary Institute of America offers plenty of advanced classes for working professional chefs year-round. You’d find any of them valuable, no matter what type of restaurant you work in.

But they aren’t cheap. Morning sessions of these four-day classes go for $1,050 each, while the evening versions go for $945. Throw in the cost of travel to Hyde Park and additional lodging expenses and it’s a costly proposition. Worth it, to be sure. But it’s a big chunk of money to lay out if you’re funding it yourself.

Continuing education course fees at the CIA are something you won’t have to pay for, however, it you’re accepted into the new Culinary Enrichment and Innovation Program (CEIP). It’s a joint venture between the CIA and Hormel Foods designed to develop future culinary leaders. The CIA oversees the course work and provides the instruction; Hormel underwrites the cost of program development and pays tuition for all students.

If you’re chosen to participate, you’ll still have to absorb the cost of transportation and lodging yourself. But so what? It’s still the best deal around.
The program’s four three-day instructional sessions are spread out over the course of 18 months. The dates are:

Oct 28-30, 2008
March 31-April 2, 2009
Oct. 6-8, 2009
April 13-15, 2010

In other words, if you can get one week off this fall, two weeks off next year and one week in the spring in 2010, you’re good to go.

You’ll need that full week. The sessions run Tuesday-Thursday, but you can figure losing a day on either end to travel. (If you haven’t been to Hyde Park and you won’t be driving there from nearby, note that you’ll have to go to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to catch the train up to Poughkeepsie, the nearest stop to Hyde Park. Figure 3-4 hours or more hours coming and going in addition to your normal travel time to New York City proper.)

The courses you’ll be taking should make your personal investment of time and money worthwhile. They are designed to be a cut above the CIA’s other continuing professional education fare. Two of the sessions are cooking-related: Flavor Dynamics and Flavor Exploration; and Contemporary Approach to Health and Wellness. A third, Leadership and Innovation Strategies, will address the nonculinary aspects of the students’ careers. The fourth, Innovative Menu Development for Profitable Operations, will teach you how to come up with new menu items that satisfy consumer demand while meeting your operation’s business objectives. All the instruction will be handled by a select group of Certified Master Chefs (there are only 60 such chefs in the world) who are based at the CIA.

When you complete the four courses, you’ll receive advance certification from the CIA and also gain membership in the Hormel Circle of Innovation, an elite network of chefs. So how do you get in? CEIP is looking for 16 mid-career culinary professionals, so you need to have at least five years of experience in the industry. To get started, head to There you can fill out an application and find additional information about the program. We repeat, the deadline is Aug. 1, 2008.

If accepted, you’ll find out by Aug. 29, with the first class starting eight weeks later.

So should you apply? This is elite-level education and Hormel’s giving 16 people a full ride. What have you got to lose?