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Selling Culinary Arts and the 'Perfect' Table

May 10, 2007 By:
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Matthew Shein (left) with rocker and former client Jon Bon Jovi

 Matthew Shein doesn't like to treat food as, well, just food.

Instead, he likes to emphasize the word "art" in culinary arts.

"I view everything that we do here as an art form," explained Shein, standing over a display of lavish wedding cakes. "A white plate is your canvas, and the main courses -- meat, fish, poultry -- are your mediums. With sauces and vegetables, you can create an edible, three-dimensional piece of art."

A graduate of the Hosta Ecole Hotelier school in Switzerland, Shein, 45, has long practiced this brand of artistry. After working as a restaurant manager at the Rittenhouse Hotel and at Restaurant Taquet in Wayne, the father of two -- son Max is 10 years old, and daughter Kendall is 8 -- now serves as director of marketing at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, a position he has held for three years.

The school, Shein explained, grants both associate's and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts, pastry arts, hotel management and restaurant management. With about 600 students enrolled, classes cover, among other topics, the history of food, menu planning, wine selection, team leadership and nutrition science. Shein teaches marketing to those studying hotel and restaurant management.

Located in West Philadelphia, the institute also offers about 50 community education courses, and boasts four on-site restaurants, as well as a pastry shop.

Shein is responsible for marketing all of these offerings to the public, a task, he says, that requires both business smarts and creativity.

"You have to know who your customers are and be able to communicate a message to them," he said.

A native of Merion, Shein developed a love of food early on: His mother not only loved to cook but also entertained dinner guests regularly at home.

As a high school student, Shein, who attended Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley for many years, worked for a catering company, and later rolled bagels for a local deli. He also went to Israel for a semester, where he lived on a moshav outside of Tel Aviv.

"I was impressed by how much pride people in Israel have for their country," said Shein. "In some ways, it's not an easy life over there, but people are very patriotic."

After high school, Shein decided to enroll in a hotel management program at Boston University.

Though he dropped out for a time to work as a line cook and concierge at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Mass., he said he soon realized the value in completing his studies.

But rather than stay in Boston, Shein headed to a mecca for those in the food and hospitality industry: Switzerland.

Attending culinary school there, he specialized in fine dining service, gaining -- among other skills -- the ability to set the "perfect table."

"Every glass must be spotless, every knife and fork symmetrical," he explained. "Every napkin should be crisp and folded consistently."

Europe also provided Shein the opportunity to work with some rather famous clients: Rocker Jon Bon Jovi and music producer Quincy Jones list are among those he's served.

When he's not in the kitchen, the Merion resident can be found coaching soccer (he helps out with his daughter's Lower Merion club); volunteering for Sally's Music Circle, a parent/child interactive music program; or organizing fundraisers for Alex's Lemonade Stand, which raises money for cancer research.

Whether using food or not, said Shein, "what floats my boat is helping people -- and feeling the reward that you made a difference in their lives." 

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