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Shaping the Chefs of Tomorrow


Every year, 100 to 125 students graduate from the Art Institute of Atlanta's culinary school. As chef director of culinary arts, James Paul oversees 30 faculty and staff and likens his role to that of a high school principal.

Creative Loafing: What's the student body look like?

Paul: It's 52 percent male and 48 percent female and about 25 [percent] to 30 percent are diverse in ethnicity or race. We have a 99 percent placement rate, meaning that within six months they are working in the field. Even when the economy slumps, everybody gets sick and everybody has to eat.

Can you teach someone to be a chef or is it innate?

It's both. You have to have a certain amount of passion to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week. Everyone can cook to survive, but as professionals you streamline, polish a finished product, learn the particular heat that's appropriate for certain items. That can be taught.

What are the key qualities of a good chef?

Good stamina, a thick skin - more often than not you only hear about your creation if is not cooked well. You have to be creative, persistent, inquisitive, organized and have the ability to multitask.

Tell us about Creations, the Institute's restaurant.

It's the best deal in the city. Four times a year, we offer dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays for $33 and a multicourse lunch for $9-$18 on Thursdays and Fridays. Once a quarter, we offer a $65, four-course dinner with wine pairings. Diners can affect education and get a scrumptious meal at the fraction of the price for a comparable meal in the city. It's not experimental; it's refined. The same students get in their cars and do that level of cooking at the finest restaurants.

Do you watch the Food Network?

I love "The Secret Life Of ..." because they take something you thought you knew and bring new a perspective and fun to it, and the old "Iron Chef" is both entertaining and funny and shows the intensity and passion and creativity of the chef. It goes across cultural boundaries. There's universality to what I do in my corner of the world.

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