While the idea of online culinary training might seem disconnected to a hands-on, in-person approach, in fact, it is becoming the new industry standard for teaching foundational culinary techniques. Top companies including Whole Foods, Marriott Hotels and Wegmans have trained their cooking staff using Rouxbe. Recognized by both the American Culinary Foundation and World Association of Chefs Societies, the company has been training hundreds of thousands of cooks in 180 countries since 2005.
Co-founders, Joe Girard and Dawn Thomas. were both classically-trained chefs who previously owned a catering business for the film industry. They rented a house and turned it into a full production studio. With their film industry connections, they were able to use food as a bribe to entice rigging crews from the X-Men movie to rig the entire kitchen set, and an Emmy-awarding winning producer to help them through lighting and camera set-up.
Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine met with Rouxbe's COO Gary Apito to discuss how the company has grown, the acceptance of e-learning, food trends and future plans.
What is Rouxbe’s current mission and how has it evolved?
Rouxbe’s mission is to develop culinary confidence in students around the world. Our online learning platform enables our students to learn how to cook in any kitchen, at any time, and on any device. We know that our students need foundational culinary technique and skills to succeed – and we provide that in a flexible, scalable, cost-effective way that aligns with their goals.
While this mission hasn’t changed, it has broadened over the years. Rouxbe was originally focused on teaching aspiring home cooks and individuals. In 2014, we expanded our offerings to provide enterprise-level group training for professional establishments to train their kitchen staff more efficiently and effectively. In the near future, you will see Rouxbe further expand into wellness as we hope to empower and equip more people to eat well by giving them the confidence and competence to cook well.
What is the meaning of the name and why was it selected?
In 2005, Rouxbe built a touch screen driven device (basically an iPad before it existed) and called it "Ruby". Ruby was your "in-kitchen friend" to guide you to cooking success and better health. Interestingly enough, few investors thought that anyone would buy a piece of hardware and then pay for content. Go figure! We dropped the hardware component and focused on developing premium instructional content that was available completely online and that's when Rouxbe was born. We changed the spelling to combine ROUX, a transformative mixture used in classic cooking to turn a liquid into a soup or sauce, and BE – to live or exist.
Who is your target client base?
Rouxbe has a few separate areas of focus, depending on specific client needs. With that said, the basis of our clients remains the same: anyone who wants to become a better cook. We offer courses and a membership option for individuals, extensive programs for those in the culinary industry, or interested in entering it, and additional offerings specific to health and wellness.
In the enterprise space, Rouxbe is training tens of thousands of cooks in restaurants, hotels, senior living communities, casinos, grocery stores and more with our 21st-century curriculums.
For aspiring chefs, Rouxbe helps them acquire a solid foundation, which can help get their foot in the door within the industry. For employed cooks, Rouxbe helps expand and deepen their knowledge as menu and dietary demands evolve. For executive chefs and others in leadership roles within an establishment, Rouxbe provides better-trained staff that turns our higher quality food in the kitchen, and ultimately lower turnover.
Explain how the program works for a new client?
I’ll answer this specifically for those in the industry. For our enterprise customers, our team works extensively upfront to determine exactly what their needs are, and how Rouxbe can help. As you can imagine, kitchens are run differently which is why Rouxbe was created to be incredibly flexible.
New clients are given a microsite dedicated to their team to log into – it is also where program admins can access reporting and monitor employee progress. An assigned onboarding specialist is available to help enroll employees and train administrators on how to get the most out of their new training solution. Rouxbe was designed to easily integrate into working kitchens and be as simple as possible – 96 percent of the grading is done by our chef-educators with very little oversight required from the on-site team.
We offer two enterprise options:
- Basic: This course is focused on entry-level cooks, perfect for small companies and growing teams. It includes 30 Continuing Education Hours with the following: premium technique videos, chef instructor Q&A support, team tracking, online quizzes and ACF recognition.
- Pro:This course is designed for larger teams, and includes an expanded curriculum, offering world-class training for organizations. It includes 110 continuing education hours with the following features (in addition to Basic): Available in Spanish, French, Mandarin and Arabic, chef instructor and live grading, white labeling and ranking, third-party platform integrations, ACF and Worldchef recognition.
We work closely with organizations to create solutions that work best for their specific needs, to ensure their team is getting the most out of the program as possible.
How has the acceptance of e-learning in culinary changed over the past few years?
With culinary schools closing their doors, there are few options today for students to get a great education affordably that fits their lifestyle, which in many cases may mean already work in a kitchen. There are a few key reasons why this way of learning has thrived:
- Over the past several years the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices has created an even easier environment for our students to learn any time, and anywhere.
- The new generation or workers is completely comfortable doing everything online — including learning.
- Fast internet is the way of the world, making access even easier .
- Employee recruitment and retention is a big problem for the hospitality industry, so training great employees internally has become more attractive. Rouxbe helps make that happen.
Is there any apprehension to e-learning now?
Much less today than a few years ago. Once people understand what we do and how we do it, they realize that we teach culinary foundations and technique really well. We do not claim to teach work ethic or how to work well as part of the kitchen staff – as we believe that is learned on the job.
Our high-quality videos provide comprehensive visual and verbal descriptions of the what, how, and why behind universal culinary techniques. Think of it this way – when you attend a live sporting event, you have the opportunity to see each play only once- there is no replay. If you happen to glance away, get your view blocked by another fan, or happen to be in the nose-bleed section, there is no way to see it again. However, if you are at home watching on your TV, you have the best view as well as the option to watch the replay as many times as you’d like.
This is similar to a live cooking class or demonstration – your viewing is limited. With Rouxbe, you always have the best view, access to replays, and the ability to revisit the technique any time. And while you can’t ask the coach a question mid-game, with Rouxbe you have access to instructors that can clarify or dive in further to topics as needed. This process is why Rouxbe has become the go-to solution for culinary training.
What are the advantages of e-learning in culinary?
Accessibility, flexibility and affordability are the cornerstones. Rouxbe makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to access our courses. This provides a huge advantage over brick and mortar schools, that not only cost significantly more in many cases, but require students to upend their lives to make it to class.
With entry level jobs in the industry starting around minimum wage, most people cannot afford to take off a couple years from working to go to culinary school and acquire tens of thousands of dollars in school debt. Online culinary programs like Rouxbe give people the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to make a strong start in the industry without the prohibitive cost and time requirements.
For restaurants and other establishments, Rouxbe makes it easy to train their staff efficiently — and with little effort on their part. Shifting from training staff directly in what spare time your chef has, to an online course done anytime, and anywhere, is a game changer, and one that can only happen via an e-learning platform.
What is the process of adding new content?
We have invested millions of dollars over the years to create high definition videos focused on foundational technique — the skills that are at the heart of great food. Most of these techniques don’t change with the newest trends or become irrelevant – techniques such as handling a chef’s knife, roasting, sauteing, etc.
What are some trends you are seeing?
One big trend we have seen is in plant-based eating, and an overall desire for healthier options both when eating out, and when cooking in our own kitchens.
We have developed courses focused on this trend to train new cooks or classically trained chefs that need to broaden their skills to meet customer demands. We believe that customers are going to increasingly expect a variety of options — from vegetarian to vegan to gluten free — and that organizations that train and hire chefs who are able to cook amazing, plant-based food, will have a leg up against the rest.
How do you see Rouxbe growing?
We dedicated the last 14 years to providing foundational culinary training to students around the world – whether that be in their home kitchen or their employer’s. While we continue to expand and optimize our existing programs, our most recent focus is how to bring culinary training into the health and wellness space. We believe food is medicine and getting people back in the kitchen, cooking for themselves and their families will help prevent and improve many of the health conditions people face today.