In the present era of celebrity chefs, Mario Batalli, Anthony Bourdain, and Gordon Ramsey are known for their quirky personalities and ruthless tyranny in the kitchen. Rock star status comes to them as much from television and literary achievement as culinary skill.
Meanwhile, in Montpelier, Chef Michel LeBorgne, founding chef at the New England Culinary Institute, achieved a different sort of fame by devoting himself to the next generation of great cooks, restaurateurs, and specialty food producers.
Born in Brittany and trained in Lyon in the 1950s, Michel LeBorgne learned to cook in the classic French way, using only the freshest locally produced ingredients. He honed his cooking skills by working his way up through the ranks of the kitchen brigade under the despotic scrutiny of established chefs who demanded both perfection and obedience.
Moving to America in 1964, LeBorgne worked under many of the finest French chefs in New York at a time when French cuisine was being "discovered" in America, thanks in part to the popularity of food legends Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.
Tiring of the contentious "back room," LeBorgne took command of the food services staff at Yale, where he brought the economy, flair, and flavor of French cuisine to a massive institution.
In 1980 LeBorgne crossed over to teaching, becoming founding chef of the newly launched New England Culinary Institute. For the next three decades he devoted himself to the success of the next generation of chefs. Embracing a philosophy of "learning by doing" LeBorgne's reputation has grown with NECI's. As he taught, he watched Vermont emerge from the culinary dark ages to become a network of food entrepreneurs, organic farmers, wild crafters, artisan cheesemakers, bakers, chefs, and specialty food producers, many of whom have been encouraged along the way by Chef Michel LeBorgne.
Comments from the students and co-workers of Michel LeBorgne:
I can't begin to imagine how many lives Chef Michel has touched over his expansive and celebrated cooking career. His wit, passion, and enthusiasm for all things is utterly infectious.
Alister Brown, Chef/Restaurateur, Wellington, New Zealand
Chef Michel's charming memoir can turn any cook with a sharp knife, a pinch of sea salt, and her grandmother's frying pan into a world class chef!
author of A Master Class: Sensational Recipes from the Chefs of the New England Culinary Institute
I met Chef Michel more than 25 years ago when I first visited New England Culinary Institute as a young chef seeking externs for my very first kitchen brigade. I returned last year (2008) to address a graduating class and found Michel to be the same charming, energetic, and enthusiastic ambassador for NECI and his adopted home, Vermont.
Co-Founder, Bayona Restaurant, New Orleans, Louisiana
It takes a very special person to imagine how to develop a unique culinary training program, then plunge in as the jack of all trades on the first day. Michel's entertaining story highlights the many twists and turns of his childhood and his professional career that culminates with the establishment of New England Culinary Institute. It is a great read and revealing of the energy, will power and optimism that has helped Michel time and again to plunge ahead into the unknown.
Co-Founder New England Culinary Institute
This is great story of a great man. Thousands of young chefs in the US have been trained and mentored by Chef Michel, and admire and uphold his values. Definitely a spicy read for up and coming chefs, and for anyone who has a passion for product and a commitment to quality. Perfectly seasoned from a consummate professional.
Executive Chef, New England Culinary Institute and Class of '91
For over 27 years, New England Culinary Institute has created a niche all its own – small classes, personal attention, and Vermont's celebrated restaurants. Because of their student to teacher ratio of 10:1, employers know that NECI graduates can "hit the ground running." Their programs provide the training and real life experience necessary to thrive in the fast-paced food and beverage industry. Located in Montpelier, NECI is now internationally regarded as one of the finest culinary academic institutions in the world.
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