When Seven Days
spoke with leaders at the New England Culinary Institute earlier this month about the future of the storied but struggling culinary school
, execs and board members pointed to executive chef Jean-Louis Gerin as the "new face" of the institution. A youthful fiftysomething, Gerin brought top-notch credentials (think James Beard Award) and a flair for celebrity (Food Network appearances) when he signed on as NECI's executive chef in late 2012.
Turns out, the face is getting a promotion. In a press release today, NECI announced that Gerin is taking on the role of Chief Operating Officer at the school. The release touted Gerin's "business acumen" and "eye for detail" in addition to his culinary accolades, and credits Gerin with introducing new areas of expertise to NECI students, including sous vide cooking and institutional food service training.
(To judge by a 2012 interview with Seven Days food writer Alice Levitt
, Gerin is also bringing a dash of good humor and charisma to the school. To Levitt's question, "What's your most embarrassing favorite food?" Gerin — who earlier professed to being a wine snob — winningly 'fessed up: "The little red triangle that you buy in the gas station ... Doritos!")
The former restaurateur behind the celebrated Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, Conn., has already been beating the bushes to find new sources of revenue for NECI. The school's enrollment has dropped below 300, and revenue today is half what it was during the school's heyday. But Gerin faces more than just the challenge of helping NECI dig out from several years of precarious finances. The school has struggled in recent years to find new leaders to follow in the footsteps of cofounder and president Francis Voigt, now 73. Twice NECI has appointed new presidents, and twice those candidates have bowed out within a matter of months.
In an interview for our March 12 cover story on NECI, Richard
Flies, board chair and acting president, hinted that the previous appointments — of Robert "Skip" Myers and Bill Meckert, successively — didn't pan out in large part due to "fit." Flies said that it's incredibly difficult to find the right person to step into a leadership role in a founder-owner company.
"[The Voigts] have their whole life tied up in this school. ... And to have someone else making all of the decisions — it has to be a really consulting type of person. It takes a special personality to work in a founder-owned business," said Flies.
"Now you take a Jean-Louis? That's a whole different animal," said Flies. "He's humble, and he wants to learn, and he consults. He doesn't just go off to do it his own way. He is really interested in the NECI legacy, as much as the owner is. He's not interested in the Jean-Louis legacy. He's already famous. He's had that internal pleasure. Now he wants to see that go off into other people."