By Vince Meehan
“I love cooking! It’s my passion, I love people,” gushed Persian – American chef Sorhab Zardkoohi. “I love to share information that I have and also information that I am still learning. And it makes me very thrilled to see how successful my students become.”
The chef’s passion for cooking is obvious as he teaches his young students the finer arts of food presentation in the kitchen of the new California Culinary Arts Institute located in the East Village. The chef’s white apron and tall hat combined with the vast array of stainless steel in the kitchen leave no doubt that culinary art is taught here and the students eat it up.
Chef Zardkoohi started the California Culinary Arts Institute after losing his previous job to Covid. He decided to offer his courses to kids aged 11 to 17 as a way to inspire the youth to pursue culinary arts. Previously, Zardkoohi taught at the National Culinary School and the Art Institute of San Diego’s culinary program while also serving as the banquet chef at the Barona Resort & Casino. He was also teaching at Valley College in San Bernardino where he had to commute from San Diego. After he was laid off, he decided to start his own school, which he says was something that was always in the back of his mind.
Zardkoohi insists that anyone can learn to become a chef, no matter what their skill sets are. “Anyone in any position who likes to cook or bake, they can become a chef. You can be a pilot, and at the same time you can be a good chef. You can be an attorney or a doctor and you can be a good chef.”
The chef said cooking is a part of life and really should be taught in school, even elementary school, and points to countries like Japan, Iceland and Finland who have successful culinary programs for young students.
The school features a full-sized culinary kitchen and an equally large presentation room where the students put together their final plates. Zardkoohi says he teaches the students how a restaurant operates from both the front and the back – the front being the actual dining area and the back being the kitchen. This way, his students are prepared to take their experience out into the real world if that’s what they want to do.
Carlos Sandoval is one of the students taking advantage of Zardkoohi’s vast array of culinary knowledge.
“I’ve learned that you can make anything from scratch using whole fresh ingredients,” Sandoval said as he stirred a pot of broccoli soup the class had just created. He added that his favorite food to cook and eat is pasta. Everest Franz is another student who has enjoyed the mentorship of Chef Zardkoohi.
“This school has been great! I always liked to cook but my parents kinda taught me – but they also didn’t have any proper training. So I learned stuff like how to hold a knife correctly, how to chop things correctly, how to dice an onion, how to julienne things. Just even the more basic fundamentals that are really useful when cooking any dish. And that’s been really useful and good to learn,” Franz said.
Zardkoohi is also using his new enterprise to give back to the community by partnering with Solutions For Change, a North County non-profit foundation with services for homeless families. He says that for every five students that sign up for his classes, he will offer a child from Solutions For Change free enrollment in the form of a scholarship. In addition, his outdoor patio will soon be converted to a dining area where the general public can come for lunch or dinner. As part of the student’s graduation, they will work for four months serving food for the diners so they can get a real life feel of how a restaurant works. And all income from that dining experience will go towards Solution For Change as well as a number of animal shelters.
For more info, go to: CaliforniaCulinaryArts.com
— Vince Meehan can be reached email@example.com.