It is not, however, a restaurant. The chefs here will eat whatever they prepare themselves and they will be taking notes as they go. Whatever food is not used will go to Meals on Wheels or some similar organization. This is the Culinary Institute of Education, one of New York’s top culinary schools.
Last week, Brian Buckley, gave a guided tour of the Institute. The 50-year old Manhattan native has worked there for the last four years as a lecturer. He covers various topics from food safety in the home, Cajun cooking, wine appreciation classes and, his specialty class, “How to Open a Restaurant”.
Buckley is somewhat of an entrepreneur. He has created a career as a restaurant consultant and part-time lecturer through sheer hard work and experience. He says of his job, “This is a career move that comes fortuitously, no one sets out to be a restaurant consultant. I worked for 20 years doing all sorts of things; from bus-boy to barman, from manager of a three-star restaurant to a funky bar in village, from a caterer to a sommelier.”
The seasoned restaurateur always knew he wanted to work in the hospitality business. “I studied communications at Hunter College but always worked part-time in bars in the area,” he said. “It was mainly a chance to meet girls and drink beer.” Those reasons may not be his motivating factors anymore. He is married now and has developed more of a taste for wine. “My wife, Joan, was always very supportive of me,” he said. “There was a two-year period when I worked every Saturday night. We missed countless weddings and Communions.”
Buckley has more time off now. He spent years getting experience in every aspect of the hospitality business and slowly began to form a long-term plan as a restaurant consultant. “I realized that I only knew 50 percent of the business, so I enrolled in the 9-month Culinary Arts Course in the Institute,” he said. He found the five-day week challenging but fun and it gave him the necessary confidence to progress with his plan. “I took a course in real estate law so that I would understand the leases and red-tape details like that,” he said.
Buckley’s first consultancy job arose from a personal referral. “A friend of mine was a chef and he convinced his boss that they needed someone in the restaurant to train the staff and provide some professional advice,” he said. Buckley accepted and began that project the way he has approached countless others: as a busboy. “Being a bus-boy is an awful job, very hardworking,” Buckley said. “It is also where you get the best perspective on how the restaurant is working — for example, if the espresso machine is up to scratch, if the dishwasher cleans glasses properly, that sort of thing.”
Buckley has worked on numerous projects since then, a situation that allows him combine his expertise in wine (he trained as a sommelier in Windows on the World), cooking, management and love of the business.
The experience he has gained is something he aims to pass on to his students. They enroll for a three-day intensive course that places heavy emphasis on the details and legalities of opening a restaurant. “I try to be realistic but not negative,” he said. “You are dealing with people’s dreams, but at the same time, I don’t want anyone to lose their savings or to have their dreams shattered. A dose of realism sets them on the right path.”
Of his students, Buckley says that approximately 10-15 percent are ready to take the step and actually end up starting up their own business, while the rest are there out of curiosity. He likes to stay in touch with the class. “Just today,” he said, “a young man from Chicago rang me. He is having trouble starting up. I always tell them, ‘Ring me, I won’t charge you.’ “
“I want them to think about the effect a new business will have on their family, their lifestyle. A lot of people see themselves in a tuxedo kissing Gwyneth Paltrow on the cheek, whereas the reality is that they might be in the back room fixing a toilet,” he said.
Matt Scialabba is one of Buckley’s students. The 25-year-old has been studying at the Institute since August 2002 and is positive about his experience. “It is great, you are exposed to different people in the business,” he said.
Scialabba has spent a few years living in Rome and hopes to open a Roman Bakery sometime in the future. Of Buckley, he said: “Brian is a great teacher. He knows everything there is to know about the business and he makes classes fun.”
Buckley’s latest project is the recently opened bar/restaurant in Penn Station. Called Tracks, it is owned by three Irish-Americans. “Bruce Caulfield, one of the owners, went to school with me,” Buckley said. “He asked if I would get involved.” Thus started a two-year collaboration that involved planning menus, color plans, d