PITTSBURGH - Two months ago, Tim Brower wouldn't have known what to do with the ingredients lining the shelves at the local Asian grocery store.
But after studying under a new curriculum at the renamed International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes, Brower can pick up different spices and concoctions and know what they are, how to use them, and where they come from.
The emphasis on international cuisine at the Pittsburgh-based Art Institutes' culinary programs became official this year to reflect changing tastes and promote North America's largest system of culinary programs, which are held in more than 30 locations across the country, including Philadelphia.
"We want students who come out with a well-rounded education," said chef Michael Nenes, assistant vice president of culinary arts for the Art Institutes.
Though the Art Institutes have taught international cuisines in the past, the courses varied from school to school and touched only on international flavors, Nenes said.
The new program includes five core cuisine classes: classical European, Latin, Asian, American regional, and world - which includes Spain, India, Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The new program also expands opportunities to study abroad and adds more guest lecturers.
Chef Sally Frey, an instructor at the Pittsburgh school who has lived in Tokyo, Paris and London, said the focus was on more than learning new tastes.
"The emphasis is on gastronomy as well as culinary arts," she said. "A true understanding of the regions and the cultures and the classics enable them to reinterpret them in their careers."
As part of the new curriculum, Frey said, students spend time in local markets seeing and experimenting with ingredients and learning about their origins. They might spend one day, for example, looking at 10 kinds of miso, a soy-based paste used as a food flavoring.
Shanna Alley, 23, is hoping to put what she has learned at the program in Pittsburgh to the test when she travels to New Zealand in the coming months.
"I'll be able to understand more of the different regions and cultures there," said Alley, who is graduating this semester with a degree in culinary arts. She said she especially looked forward to exploring the meats, seafood and fresh ingredients that New Zealand offered.
Historically known as a school for design and visual arts, the Art Institutes began offering a culinary program in Atlanta in 1991. Now more than 30 schools in the system offer culinary programs.