Saturday, May 30, 2015

Culinary Graduate Switches To The Sweet Side of Life: Interview With Chef Johnson

Today, I had the privilege to interview Chef Rowan Johnson, an amazing chef, who has traveled all over the world gaining both culinary and baking knowledge. She has landed here, at The Culinary Institute of America to share it with us. Chef Johnson is a petite structured chef, but don't let her size fool you. She is a culinary powerhouse, trained in Classical French Cooking and Baking & Pastry Arts. Chef Johnson teaches IPP, also known as Individual & Production Pastries, in Bakeshop 4 here at the CIA. Individual & Production Pastries is a class where the definition is given in the name. You make individual pastries such as Macaroons, Madeleines, and Classic French Tarts; just to name a few. This class is no joke. It is demanding, fast paced, and will make you break a sweat. But not to worry. You, as a Baking & Pastry student at the CIA, will have taken four classes before you end up in Bakeshop 4 to better prepare you for IPP.

Sweet Raspberry Tart, photo credit @rowanljohnson
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries 
Throughout the interview, I asked several questions, one being "Chef, why did you choose the CIA?"  Chef Johnson said, "I wanted to go to the best of the best. I knew the CIA was the top of the line for all culinary schools, and I wanted the best culinary education I could get."

As the great Julia Child once said, "The Culinary Institute of America is the Harvard of all culinary schools."

Chocolate Petit Gateau, photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries 
Chef Johnson is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, with an Associate Degree in Culinary Arts. She graduated in 2000 and went on to work for over a dozen successful restaurants and hotels. During my interview I asked Chef, "As a student, where did you do your externship at?" Chef Johnson replied, " I did my externship at The Boulderado Hotel in Boulder, Colorado."

I did some research on The Boulderado Hotel. It was built in 1909 to promote growth in the area by providing the comfort of first class hotels. The name was created by combining "Boulder" with "Colorado"; so guests would never forget where they stayed. As the hotel opened in 1909, the first rooms where priced at $1.00 to $2.50 a day. This is proof that the CIA has many different externship options for all its students and for any dream they can set their minds to.

Individual & Production Pastries, photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries  
After graduating from the CIA, Chef Johnson went to work for over a dozen top restaurants and hotels like, Ristorante MoriniL'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Four Seasons Hotel, Gordon Ramsay at The London; just to name a few. As you can tell, Chef Johnson has had quite the amazing career and only graduated 15 years ago. Through the CIA, she was able to use that prestigious name on her resume to unlock many doors that have helped her gain her success in this demanding industry. 

Colorful Macarons, photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries  
After being in the Industry for 13 years, Chef Johnson decided to come back home, where it all started for her, and applied for an instructor position here at The Culinary Institute of America. Chef started teaching at the CIA in August 2014 with "Baking for Culinary students." This class is an introduction to baking for the culinary arts students, it teaches them the basics of baking and pastry arts. The CIA provides this class so that if you're working in a restaurant after graduation and someone calls in sick on the baking side, you, as a cook would know the basics of what to do. After teaching that class, Chef Johnson was asked to teach "Individual & Production Pastries" in Bakeshop 4, where she currently teaches second semester students all about French individual pastries. 

I asked Chef Johnson, "What do you love about working at the CIA?". She said, "The CIA has such a diverse intelligence when it comes to knowledge about food. If I have a question on something I am not sure about, I can go to other chefs throughout campus and ask for their opinion. Each Chef has many different ways of doing certain things so I can learn new techniques." 

Each chef at the CIA has worked for many different restaurants and hotels, and have picked up different ways of doing certain tasks. We, as students, get to learn many different ways of doing one thing; so we can pick the one we find works for us best. 

Tarts, photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries 
I asked Chef Johnson, "What do you love about teaching IPP?Chef Johnson replied, "I was trained in a Classic French background, so, I get to teach what is near and dear to my heart. I show students how to create and produce pastries that you would find in a classic French Patisserie."

Chef has spent many years doing exactly what she is teaching now everyday in Bakeshop 4. So, she is talented in this subject and can teach it comfortably. 

Milk Chocolate Mousse Brownie
Chocolate Hazelnut Petit Gateaux
photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries 
My favorite question to ask any Chef that I am interviewing is, "Any advice for new students coming to The Culinary Institute of America?", because every Chef has a different answer. Chef Johnson had a great response, "Start organizing recipes now. Keep all your recipes in organized binders or folders. So you can pull from them whenever you need them. Also start to build your portfolio now. Future employers love to see the food you have produced. It's good to build a solid foundation and then work your way up from there." 

Chef Johnson uses Instagram as a portfolio. She posts all her work on Instagram and tells employers to view her account. If you would like to visit Chef Johnson's Instagram to view her pictures and follow her, click on the link:

Berry Mousse Petit Gateau, photo credit @rowanljohnson 
and the students of Individual & Production Pastries 
I ended my interview asking Chef Johnson, "What is the most important thing to learn about this industry?" She replied "Always keep learning, always keep researching, and always stay inspired. In this industry you will always learn something new. There is not one chef out there that knows everything. It is always great to stay up to date with what you're doing and also what is happening around you in the culinary field. In this business, you can get bored with what your doing. But just remember that with a few minor tweaks, you can be doing something totally different."

Chef Johnson is an inspiration to me, not only because she has been successful, but because she has put her self out there and has taken risks. That's what it takes to make it in this industry. 

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