Take Five: Finding the spark that ignites passion

It’s common knowledge in these trying times that jobs are hard to come by and even harder to keep.

In order to get a job, having a college degree can help. But many times college isn’t possible for a variety of reasons.

One option could be a professional vocational school such as Le Cordon Bleu.

To find out more about this alternative to a traditional college education, I recently met with Lachlan Sands, who is the dean of Academic Affairs at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, which is located on Green Street in Pasadena. His school is one of 17 LCB campuses in North America — institutions that can produce chefs, kitchen managers, hospitality and catering experts and possibly future restaurant owners.

Sands is a big fan of career changers who for many reasons bid farewell to jobs they disliked. In some cases where companies have laid off people, some have turned to his school and discovered their own true passion, just as he did.

Sands earned a degree in bio-chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley, aiming at medicine as a career. Along the way, in his pre-med courses, he had discussions with instructors in classes and other doctors outside of school in private practice. When he disclosed his reasons for becoming a doctor, he was advised that making a great deal of money was not a good enough reason. He was urged to find another career.

At that point he got a Masters in Education and, discovering a love of cooking, he enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu. He now supervises a staff of hundreds of educators at the college and is actively involved with the students. Some of his protégés go on to the highest levels in the culinary industry.

“Preparing food is a business”, says Sands. “Dollars made have to pay rent, phone bills, payroll and then something called food. We practice cooking, but we are also teaching the cooks how to become professionals in the food-service business. We’re just as much a business-oriented school as we are a culinary arts school. After all, kitchen managers and chefs run good size enterprises. Budgets, cash flows are many times more important in the perishable food world than in other types of companies.”

Basically, the students have to be taught to be students. There are 10,000 books, 80 computers and 100 chefs to help. Pursuing any career is tough, but Sands wants to make sure that every student graduates, and that they all have the tools to get a job. Many step up professionally very quickly.

What struck me most were the comments that Sands made toward the end of our interview. About 35% of the students who come to the school are dissatisfied with their previous careers. Their work ethic is impressive. He told me that the ages range from young people of 17 to older folks who are in their 70s, and all have the desire to keep on learning.

If indeed a quality career is a goal, colleges such as Pasadena City College and Glendale Community College offer similar programs in the food business.

Just take a look at the catalogs of various city and community colleges. Pick one up and scroll through the classes and see the opportunities offered in many different fields.

Read it like a novel and watch for the spark that ignites your passion.

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at gpep@aol.com or phone (818) 790-1990.

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