Minority participation in the culinary industry trending upwards

Updated
By Zaid A. Jilani

“Across the country, enrollment by people of color in culinary schools is on the rise,” msnbc’s Melissa Harris-Perry reported on Sunday’s edition of her show.

The profession is often thought of as upper-class and white, and as Harris-Perry noted, it largely is. 60 percent of chefs are white—9 percent are black—and culinary school can cost up to $30,000, placing a large class barrier before those who want to work in the industry.

But the demographics may be changing. For example, the Culinary Institute of America in New York has had its black enrollment double since 2004, though  African Americans still make up less than 7 percent of its student body. 

Syrena Johnson, an African American chef from New Orleans, appeared on the show to talk about how she became a member of the new generation of black chefs. After starting her culinary career at McDonald’s, Johnson received a scholarship as part of John Besh’s Chefs Move! program to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York.

“I think it’s a start,” she said about Besh’s scholarship. “I couldn’t have went as far as I did now.”

“When you have the chance to share those networks and that training and expertise,” people without a strong pedigree in their field can make great strides, said Michael Ralph, an assistant professor at NYU. “It’s a great metaphor for education as a whole, right? Give people an opportunity and see how well they work.”

Minority participation in the culinary industry trending upwards

Updated