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Campus Connection: New England Culinary Institute - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Campus Connection: New England Culinary Institute

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The bakery inside the New England Culinary Institute is abuzz with activity.

"Today is my first day with artisan breads, so I have done all new stuff today," said student Alexis Kelleher.

Here aspiring chefs are crafting an impressive variety of handmade edibles. "Three different kinds of bread, baguettes, hamburger buns -- a few different types of dinner rolls," said student Andrew Richardson.

NECI fist opened it's doors in 1980.

"I love the small class sizes. I love the professors. I haven't had I chef who I haven't loved," Richardson said.

It started with a handful of students and now trains roughly 500 a year. Tuition, room and board is $36,000 a year.

"I really like how I am in a hands-on environment and I get to use all of those senses that I'll be using in a real kitchen," Kelleher said.

New chefs practice different culinary skills in three week rotations. "We learn how to do them in higher volumes and we learn how to take it from the very first step, all the way to the case, to make it look beautiful so that it is something special," Kelleher said.

They make their mistakes in the school kitchen before heading out for mandatory internships at restaurants around the world. "As long as we learn from it, that's why we're here," said NECI Chef Instructor Mat Zimmerman. "There's no screaming and yelling -- we're here to learn and that's what I love about this."

Things on campus have not always been perfect. Two years ago the institute failed a financial responsibility test with the U.S. Department of Education. NECI's founder, Fran Voigt, said he's made management changes and expects the school to be back on track next summer. The progress comes at a time when Voigt's looking toward retirement. The big problem now is finding a new owner or non-profit to take over.  "It's turning out to be more of a challenge than we anticipated. Money is always a challenge because we did not set this school up to make a lot of money, we set it up to aspire to excellence," Voigt said.

A goal these students share even if it means taking one for the team when it comes to an occasional kitchen casualty. "I've gained probably 20 pounds since I started here and I have two cavities," Richardson said.

"If a cookie is messed up, someone has to eat it, we can't put it out front," Kelleher added.

Culinary students are making hundreds of these cookies every week. You can try them for yourself at NECI's La Brioche Bakery and Café in Montpelier, where students serve about 350 guests everyday.

The institute also runs the NECI on Main restaurant in Montpelier and serves roughly 30,000 meals a month in the Montpelier's National Life Building.

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