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It’s Okay To Enjoy Food: The Story Of The Park City Culinary Institute

“Understanding the science of cooking changes your life,” says Laurie Moldawer, founder and director of the Park City Culinary Institute. The institute offers an 8-week program where students attend classes four days a week taught by notable, award-winning chefs. The program is shorter and more affordable than other culinary programs, costing just $8,900 compared to an average of $11,000 in most other parts of the country. “It’s an amazing value,” Moldawer says.

But it’s not just the price tag that makes the Park City Culinary Institute attractive to up-and-coming chefs — it’s also the quality of instruction. Instead of employing professional educators, Moldawer hires executive chefs. “They’re actually experienced chefs,” she says. These chefs know not only how to prepare delicious food, but how to navigate the food industry as well. Understanding every aspect of the industry is necessary for Park City Culinary Institute graduates because the program has a job placement rate of nearly 100%. Those who have completed the program are now working in the top Utah restaurants. “If it’s a high-end restaurant, our students are there,” Moldawer says. Additionally, raises for graduates have been as high as 17% compared to their salaries before starting the program.

Moldawer herself is a culinary school graduate. She took six months off from her career to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She then returned to her job in New York to help build a law firm and double its revenue. Eventually the time came, however, for her to leave New York, so she drove west. “When I drove into Park City it was just really different,” Moldawer says. “There was just something magical about Utah. Something about the air.” So she made Park City her home and continued working remotely for the law firm she helped build.

Then, one day, while she was attending a Park City leadership program, the topic of economic viability arose. With a very seasonal ski and tourist industry, the city was struggling in the offseason. The consensus was that a culinary school could attract visitors year round. The city just needed a director. Moldawer stepped up to the (dinner) plate, and, using her personal law firm salary, founded the Park City Culinary Institute, which became profitable this year.

One of Moldawer’s initial challenges was trying to start a culinary school in a culture that does not believe in indulging or enjoying food. “People are taught that thrift is more important than the experience of enjoying high-end food,” Moldawer says. In actuality, as Moldawer explains, investing in a culinary program can help the home cook save money in the long run. “The more you understand, you not only use the items that you would have thrown out, you know what to do to make everything you cook last longer,” Moldawer explains, then adds, “It’s okay to enjoy food. It’s an experience that deserves time and attention.”

The upside to native Utahns being slow to sign on is the diversity of students. People come from all over the world to enroll in the institute. “It’s really developing as a destination for people around the country,” Moldawer says, citing the proximity to local farms and producers as part of the draw, a draw she expects to increase. “People are going to want to come from around the country to experience our school and Utah.”

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