Friday, June 24, 2016

Humans of The CIA: Chef David McCue '93

by Joseph Haffly, Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, excerpted from La Papillote

Chef McCue is one of the many personalities here at the Culinary Institute of America that everyone has heard about at least once. Most know of his Facebook page highlighting some of the innocuous student behavior in the kitchen. We have also heard, or will hear, at some point about the burnt museum that he has collected over the years. But what else is there? What kind of stories and advice does Chef McCue have? I had the opportunity to sit down with Chef McCue and give him some questions in hopes of entertaining and enlightening answers. What I got was exactly that. 

Q: What can you tell me about your time working with Martha Stewart?
A: I rather enjoy telling stories. I would have to say that my time at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia was some of the more content rich harvesting stories. It was a very good experience.

Chef McCue continued to tell me of the process behind working in a television studio. He worked on production of recipes and finished items to be featured on the show. The onscreen production of recipes required everything to be broken down into many more steps than one might expect. During the filming, Chef McCue would need to have a showpiece for every step of the recipe from start to finish. This kind of production required excellent time management and precise repetition. 
During his time with Martha Stewart, Chef McCue also catered to her, as well as guests of her show privately. Some of the more well known individuals for whom Chef cooked for are John Cleese, Cyndi Lauper, Aretha Franklin, former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, Chef Julia Child, and Chef Jacque Pepin. On occasion, Chef McCue was also hired for private catering. At one point, he found himself in the Manhattan penthouse of 'Sting'. Over the course of catering Sting's rainforest charity event, he met 'Madonna' and finished the night off by sharing a beer with James Taylor. This is just one of the many stories from the rock n' roll years of Chef McCue.

Q: What advice can you give to students looking to go into food media? Anything they should focus on strengthening?
A: Be very meticulous in your work. Become a perfectionist, it doesn't hurt to be OCD. You also need to be able to keep your head down and work. A career in food media, as with any kind of media, is a lot of hard work. Seeking out a mentor with experience in such a career to help you prepare for this type of career is not a bad idea. You have to work hard and love what you do. Just remember that if you don't work hard, you don't get rewarded.

Q: What is one of your greatest frustrations with students?
A: Apathy. I can deal with anything; naivety, ignorance, lack of talent, any kind of injury. If you want to learn I can teach you. But, if you don't want it then I don't want you in my kitchen. Apathy is the worst attribute in my opinion. Most students underestimate the amount of work. They always refer to the Food Network and TV shows. A lot of students get the wrong idea from TV and have a rude awakening when they get into a real kitchen.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your students?
A: Seeing their changes. Having a student come in with little or no ability in the kitchen only to see them leave with a noticeable improvement in their abilities. Mentoring students who come in and are fighting for something, fighting to make it through, almost like they're fighting for their lives. The positive change that I have on students, that's what I enjoy about this job.

Q: Do you have any tips for new students?
A: Saying 'Yes Chef" will save your life. Never any excuses, we don't want excuses. 'Yes Chef' means 'I hear you, I understand you, and I will make it so.' Be respectful. Again, no excuses and no lies, just do what chef says. If you are wearing whites in a kitchen then everything is your responsibility. Remember, if you want responsibility then you have to respond with ability.

Q: Can you offer any advice for students wishing to work abroad?
A: Do it! We as chefs can work anywhere in the world. Food is essential and it is everywhere. I recommend making an effort to learn the language of the country you try to find work in. Not knowing the spoken language only makes the learning curve harder. Just make an effort not to be a tourist, most people don't like tourists. If you want to be successful abroad or at home then stay humble, always.

Q: What do you think makes a successful restaurant? 
A: Put the right concept in the right spot. It really does come down to location. You can have an amazing menu and restaurant layout, but if you're in the wrong neighborhood it's game over. As far as a menu goes, it is built on three legs. Leg one is proper seasoning, leg two is proper serving temperature, and leg three is making sure it is properly cooked. You can do two of the three really well, but if one is missing then the whole thing falls down. Most importantly is to make sure you are happy. If you aren't happy then your work will suffer and that will show. Most people don't know what makes them happy. Find what makes you happy before committing to opening a restaurant. 

Q: Can you tell me about the side towel scholarship?
A: When I first started teaching at the CIA, I mentored under a young man by the name of Barry. He would collect any forgotten side towels and resell them to students for $1 each and deposit the money into a jar. I adopted this practice and eventually we realized that we were gathering a lot of forgotten tools, aprons, and towels. We continued to offer them to students at a greatly discounted price and used the proceeds to start up the side towel scholarship. Since then, we have also added McCue t-shirts to the list of items for sale. All earnings from sales goes directly to the scholarship fund; 100% of it. The scholarship is awarded to the good and hard-working students so that we can make sure they can stay in school. To date we have helped over 200 students reach graduation with this scholarship.

Thank you, Chef McCue, for taking the time to help the students who need it. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Food and Fitness

By: Lyanardo Holland, Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, excerpted from La Papillote

            It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night and you just finished cleaning your station and you’re headed out the door. You’ve been at work since noon to help pick up the slack from an absent co-worker. In addition, the Sous Chef has been on you all night demanding perfection from you. Johnny Quick and Susie Shuffle mention that they know the bartender down the street and have ensured that you will get your money’s worth tonight if you go out with them. Do you go out and get plastered tonight, making tomorrow’s day of work that more daunting? Do you go to the late night gym or get to bed early to exercise in the morning? It’s a tough decision in the moment but if you take the time to weigh out the long-term effects, I’m hoping you would make the decision for exercise. If not, let me try to persuade you.
             Exercise isn’t just for the protein drinking, sun tan lotion wearing, macro counting, bodybuilding extraordinaire. It’s for the average person who’s worked a long day for low wages who wants to keep their mind and body in the best condition that they can to prolong their life. Exercise isn’t just about fitting into the swimsuit you want for the summer or shaping those “guns” for the sun. It also has benefits that deal directly with the stressors of a demanding fast pace working environment. This is certainly true when that job takes 10 hours out of your day and one extra teaspoon of an ingredient in the wrong dish can make that day disastrous.
It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol are problems within our cooking community. Cooks, chefs, and bakers are all looking for ways to relieve some stress and far too often they lean on drugs and alcohol. The non-profit medical practice and medical research group, Mayo Clinic, said it best about exercise: “It’s meditation in motion”. The good thing about using exercise as a form of meditation is that virtually any activity done for fitness can be used. Whether it be swimming, running, Zumba, jiu jitsu, bicycling, or hiking; your mind is off of the stress that you have been put through for the day. You will be focused on the task at hand and not about that pan sauce that you burned or that cake that you left in the oven too long. The time spent on not thinking about your errors will allow you to reset and refocus. The time that you spend meditating in motion will eventually turn into physical progress.

The physical progress or “gains” can turn into positives in the kitchen. Your body will be more adept to handling physical stressors at work because those stressors won’t be as profound anymore. If Johnny Quick occasionally lifts 30 pounds only to lift the stock pot then that 30 pound stock pot may be an issue for him. It’s not something that his body is used to doing, so physically it becomes more of a stressor. Now, if Susie Shuffle happens to go to the gym and routinely lifts 70 pounds then that 30 pound stockpot is not going to be as big as a problem for her as it was for Johnny Quick. Additionally, Susie’s body will be able to handle the environmental stresses of the kitchen such as high heat.
The last issue that I want to highlight is the diet that we eat while working. A lot of us can’t eat while we are working. If we do, it may be something that was unsuitable for a patron, family meal, or whatever is left after service. Also, who wants to cook after working 10-12 hours? This brings convenience foods into play like pizza, burgers, and prepackaged ramen. None of those practices are part of a healthy diet. However, exercise can help combat some of the negative effects of eating poorly. The American Heart Association recommends exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five days out of the week. They also mention that something is better than nothing. Don’t think that just because you can’t fit or do 30 minutes of activity 5 days of the week that you shouldn’t do anything at all. What would be most important in that scenario is that you start.
We’ve went over a few reasons why exercising can be a good thing in the culinary world. This is in spite of working long hours and eating infrequently. Exercising can help you relieve mental and physical stress. This leaves you more prepared for work and life. Exercise can extend your life expectancy by making sure your cardiovascular organs are working at an optimal state. You can also meet awesome people at the gym. Exercise isn’t just something you should do to prepare for summer, but something that you should do for life—your life. It can help combat depression. It can make a person more productive. Exercise can even help a person understand that even though they may be tired that they can keep pushing and get the job done. It’s important to exercise when you have a stressful job. The benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. It’s a good way to relieve stress in a healthy manner.