By Chris Cunningham
The Scene staff
Forest Park’s culinary program has been ranked ninth in the nation by Best Choice Schools, a website that ranks colleges and universities in a wide variety of categories.
But circumstances surrounding the ranking are being questioned by the American Culinary Federation.
“We can’t verify the methodology or metrics they used to create the list,” said Stacy Gammill, public relations manager. “We don’t know if they just Googled a list of culinary schools and picked the schools with the best pictures.”
Ellen Piazza, chair of hospitality studies at Forest Park, said she had never heard of Best Choice Schools until a former student announced the ranking on Facebook.
“It was pleasant and unexpected,” Piazza said. “I didn’t say anything at first because I wanted to check the validity.”
Piazza said she looked at the Best Choice Schools website and didn’t see any evidence that it was simply a marketing tool.
“They didn’t contact us,” she said. “We had nothing to do with it. We didn’t pay for it.”
Piazza said she also was reassured by the fact that local newspapers and magazines reprinted information from the Best Choice Schools website after being notified of the ranking. Best Choice Schools ranked America’s Top 50 culinary programs in August. First place went to the International Culinary Center in New York and California. New England Culinary Institute in Vermont came in last.
STLCC announced its ninth-place ranking in a Sept. 6 press release after receiving an alert from its online media tracking system.
Best Choice Schools looked at programs that “offer hands-on experience, internship/externship opportunities, student-operated restaurants, modern facilities and a solid reputation in the industry,” according to the website.
The ranking was compiled by Kelley Jacobs. Her introduction mentioned that only American Culinary Federation-accredited programs had been considered.
Gammill heard about the ranking after the American Culinary Federation started receiving press releases from colleges and universities.
Gammill said she became perplexed after spending several days struggling to get information on Best Choice Schools or reach the people involved. The website provides no phone number or address. A contact link invites people to send emails, but it isn’t functional.
“Just because we can’t find something doesn’t necessarily mean it is fishy,” Gammill said. “It just means that we have to take the list with a grain of salt.”
STLCC students can get associate of applied science degrees in culinary arts or baking and pastry arts. Both are accredited by the American Culinary Federation.
Classes are held on the Forest Park campus. Instructors include Casey Shiller, who has received national attention as a winner on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”