Bwog spoke to the president and a fellow of Gourmand, a culinary club at Columbia, regarding the new Gourmand Fellowship Program.

In April, Bwog talked to Abby Bonat (BC ’25), the president of Gourmand, a culinary club here at Columbia. Gourmand’s Columbia chapter is one of many—the organization has over 10 college chapters nationally. 

This past semester, Bonat oversaw the creation of Columbia’s Gourmand Fellowship Program, where eight students had the opportunity to work in a mentored culinary setting for a semester. Columbia is the second chapter to institute a fellowship, the inaugural cohort coming from the University of Pennsylvania. Bonat spoke to Bwog about the ideas and goals surrounding Columbia’s Gourmand Fellowship. 

The fellowship first began at the University of Pennsylvania as a way to integrate college students within the Philadelphia culinary scene. Similarly, Bonat felt drawn to New York’s unique culinary offerings. “We’re super privileged to have thousands of amazing restaurants and all different cuisines in the city,” Bonat told Bwog. “It would be silly not to take advantage of that.” 

The Spring 2024 inaugural semester of the Columbia Gourmand Fellowship Program allowed eight students to work at one of five different sites in either hospitality, restaurant, or bakery settings. The fellows worked for eight to 10 weeks for at least eight hours a week. 

Bonat expressed aspirations for the fellowship to cultivate pre-professional opportunities, as many of her peers aim to pursue culinary hospitality after college. “As far as I’m aware, there’s not any opportunities through Columbia for undergrads to secure a hospitality internship,” she remarked. Bonat also wanted to represent a large variety of culinary careers in the fellowship placements. “My goal was to… give people an avenue to get a food internship in the city and then also to show the diversity of occupations that you can get within food,” she stated. 

Given Spring 2024 was the first semester of the Columbia Gourmand fellowship, the Gourmand board wasn’t sure how much interest there would be. The fellowship application didn’t require students to have any experience—passion and a degree of culinary activity was all that was necessary. Ultimately, the program saw significant interest, leaving Bonat the challenging task of choosing fellows. 

According to Bonat, applicants were instructed to rank their preferred restaurant placements, in addition to describing reasons for applying and relevant experience. Applicants were required to think of a way they could provide an original contribution to the restaurant, outside of merely food preparation. During the admissions process, Gourmand conducted interviews with some applicants, who were ultimately accepted and placed based on a mixture of preferences, best fit, and seniority. 

Once the eight fellows were accepted, they began coordinating with their placement supervisor about what form the fellowship would take. The Spring 2024 fellows took on a variety of roles, including event planning, financial hospitality, vibe curation, prep cooking, baking, interior design, and social media management, according to Bonat. “What I really was striving to do with the fellowship [was to] give the fellows some freedom to have more of a customizable experience,” she said. 

It was also important for Bonat to be able to fund the fellowship. “I really don’t agree with free labor,” she said. “I wanted [fellows] to be supported financially… I didn’t want this to be exclusive. I wanted people in all open levels to be able to apply.” Ultimately, fellows were supported through stipends funded by their placement sites or by Chelsea Market. 

Bwog also contacted Gourmand Fellow Cece Fatta (CC ’25), who spent the Spring 2024 semester at Breads Bakery. “I have always wanted the chance to work in a bakery,” Fatta told Bwog. She ultimately worked with the brunch service at the Upper East Side location, helping to cook, bake, and plate various dishes. “The bakery serves traditional Jewish foods, so I was able to try a lot of new dishes and pastries,” she said. 

Fatta also discussed various new insights she gained at Breads Bakery. “I was amazed at how much logistics go into organizing each day at the bakery,” she said. “From ordering ingredients to timing when to bake things, everything is calculated.” She encouraged any future Gourmand fellows to “be open to trying new things,” reassuring them not to be afraid of making mistakes at their placement site, since “everyone is human and is just doing their best.” 

After college, Fatta wants to pursue food science. Although she doesn’t plan to work directly with baking and cooking, she sees her experience at Breads Bakery as useful for her postgraduate plans. “I have seen how a working bakery operates, including what ingredients they use and how much,” she told Bwog. “Just my location went through hundreds of eggs a day, amounts that are hard to comprehend unless you have worked there.” 

Overall, Bonat saw the program as a way for students to gain experience, learn about a career in the culinary industry, and get their feet in the door of potential career opportunities. Reflecting on the success of the first semester of the New York Gourmand Fellowship, Bonat hopes a fellowship cohort will take place each spring. “We’ve been just so incredibly grateful and impressed by [fellows’] commitment to the fellowship and just how great of an environment [placement sites are] creating for the fellows,” she said. 

Bonat and Fatta also looked to the University for increased support for students who want to pursue careers in hospitality or the culinary industry. Bonat encouraged Columbia to showcase its “really impressive” array of alumni in the culinary industry at career fairs, as well as fund programs for students who want to pursue food and hospitality. Fatta referred to Cornell University’s hospitality programs, writing that “Columbia no doubt has the connections necessary for [a similar program] to be successful.” 

Applications for the Gourmand Spring 2025 Fellowship will be available in the Fall 2024 semester. Gourmand also regularly hosts speaker events, food tastings, and supper clubs, while maintaining a blog and podcast. Fatta told Bwog, “Gourmand’s events have always been a lot of fun, as well as a good way to balance the stress associated with being a student at Columbia.” 

Cece Fatta at Breads Bakery
Gianna Bianchi and Raven Rothkopf with their supervisor Alessandro at Fortini Pizza Romana
Kevin Li with his supervisor Noah at Black Seed Bagels
Benjamin Gorman at Junoon

Update made on Tuesday, May 21 at 2:35 pm:

Photos of Gourmand fellows were added.

Gourmand logo via Columbia Gourmand

Fellows via Abby Bonat