Cooking school courses canceled as CEO lands in jail

On its website, PLANTLAB promises its prospective students "the most advanced onsite plant-based culinary education in state-of-the-art kitchen academies."

Instead, its New York City kitchen sits empty while nearly two dozen students wonder where their tuition dollars went.

"You start going and you build up all this hope and anticipation for like what's going to come at the end and out of nowhere you're blindsided and everything in canceled, everything is shut down, nothing is what it would seem," said Angelica Galarza, who spent $17,000 for PLANTLAB's full vegan cooking curriculum.

On Wednesday, Galarza and many of her fellow students gathered in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park to process their shock over an email from PLANTLAB's admissions team.

It read: "It is our regret to inform you that all courses at all locations are canceled until further notice. The entire team of PLANTLAB has been unable to contact the CEO, Adam Zucker since Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 at 11:15 am PST. Adam Zucker is the sole owner of PLANTLAB and the only person solely responsible for all finances and location payments."

The cancellation also applied to PLANTLAB's on-site locations in Venice, California, and Barcelona, Spain.

But while students took to social media to absorb the shock, Zucker re-emerged on Wednesday night with an email to Fox 5 News, writing, "This is Adam Zucker. I did not disappear, rather dealing with some very serious personal issues. I have only acted in good faith with plantlab and it is my life. I am open to speaking."

In a phone conversation with Fox 5 News on Thursday morning, the PLANTLAB CEO reiterated his commitment to the company and his students. But he didn't mention one big hurdle: he is likely going to a California prison in January.

Zucker, it turns out, was arrested on August 21 in Beverly Hills, California. On Monday, he pleaded guilty in a Los Angeles Criminal Court to 35 felony counts related to his embezzling $2.4 million between 2011 and 2015 from his then-employer.

An earlier 2015 arrest from the beginning of the police investigation didn't show up on background checks when celebrity chef Matthew Kenney hired Zucker as his culinary school's chief operating officer. That was the position Zucker held when he bought and rebranded the school from Kenney last year.

When Fox 5 News asked Zucker for further comment about his crimes, Evan Neirman, a spokesperson for Zucker and PLANTLAB, sent a statement saying, "It would be highly inappropriate to comment on any legal matter that are of a personal nature and unrelated to PlantLab."

And on Friday, Zucker broke his silence to his students with an email apologizing for the cancellations.

"In recent days I have been working hard to restart PLANTLAB'S regular operations and to continue our courses at all locations as soon as possible," Zucker wrote. "That is the goal and where I am focusing my attention. I remain committed to your success, and I thank you for your patience and understanding. As specific timelines for rescheduling the coursers become clear I will look to share this information with you and keep you updated."

Still, the lack of transparency about his crimes and spare details about how to make paying students whole has kept students like Angelica Galarza in limbo.

"I definitely want reimbursement. If the school is going to continue, I definitely want classes still. I don't know if I'll attend, but the offer would be amazing," Galarza said.