Friday, August 15, 2014

Evolving Our Industry One Chef at a Time

by Connor White, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

Just the other day, I had an epiphany. Never before in my life have I had this much of an understanding of food. Right now I am the best that I’ve ever been. What an incredible feeling that is. The even crazier this is that I’m still not at my maximum potential. I still have so much to learn and so much of my skills yet to hone. I’m constantly baffled by the incredible education that The CulinaryInstitute of America instills in us. Their ability to produce such high quality chefs is something rather profound. For me, choosing to enroll at The Culinary Institute of America was a no-brainer.

Even before coming to school, I was learning how to cook the CIA way. I was lucky enough to attend a two-year culinary program in high school. My instructor, Chef Karen Mecum, is a CIA graduate herself. I was one of two students in my class to continue on to the CIA after graduating. In fact we are just two of the many students that she has funneled to her alma mater. I was lucky enough to be provided with such an excellent background in culinary, even luckier that I was being trained in CIA habits and methods early on. Chef Mecum was one of those teachers who truly valued the education of her students. She went the extra mile, training us for competitions, exposing us to different cuisines, and ultimately preparing us for our next step in our culinary journeys. I feel so blessed to have had a mentor who provided me with such a strong foundation to build on.

Once I arrived at the CIA, I immediately felt in my element. Chef Swartz '89 was my culinary fundamentals instructor. I remember on the first day he asked my class who had been to a vocational school. I, along with several other students, raised my hand. He said that we were the students whose bad habits he needed to break. I immediately took this as a challenge. Surely I hadn’t been taught anything too horrendous. Throughout that class I made it a point to prove myself to Chef Swartz. I wasn’t some schmuck and I desperately wanted to prove it. I buckled down and worked my ass off to be the best that I could be. I needed to show Chef Swartz that I was a Chef Mecum quality student, a Culinary Institute of America quality student.

For the entire class, that entire first year for that matter, I spent nearly 100% of my time dedicated to being the best that I could be. I wasn’t going to let the CIA break me. As a PM student I would wake up and make my timeline for that day’s class and finish up any homework that I was given. Then I would go to class and work my ass off. When I got home from class I would work on my homework until I went to sleep. This cycle continued for the remainder of the year. I really do believe that the chefs could see that I had potential. They, too, went the extra mile in ensuring that their students were given the best possible education.

I will be the first to admit that the CIA pushes their students to the limit. What other school can you think of whose students sacrifice the bulk of their summer to wake up at 1 AM for class? There is a lot that is expected of us and those who can’t handle the pressure are quickly weeded out. This leaves the core group of students who strive toward being the best that they can be. With that said, Chef’s primary goal is to help us succeed. They push us so hard for our own benefit. Once we’ve proven ourselves they support us and continue to push us to our maximum potential.

We are all blessed to have the opportunity to be surrounded by such culinary excellence. The Culinary Institute of America has been the key player in our successes as culinary professionals. I am extremely appreciative to CIA for all they have done for me. As a current extern, I am exposed to the reality of our industry beyond our classroom kitchens. There are countless CIA quality locations. However there are also places out there that don’t match the CIA’s high standards. As the school continues to produce such high quality chefs, the bar is being raised for our industry as a whole. The Culinary Institute of America is bettering the culinary industry one chef at a time. We are all lucky to be at the school during this time of amazing positive changes in the industry. 

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