Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: Culinary Specialist, Centre de Recherche et d’Etudes pour l’Alimentation (CREA)
Location: Washington, DC
From the very beginning of her culinary career, A.J. Schaller ’05 has embraced its pace, challenges, and excitement. At nine years of age, she and her sisters began cooking family dinners because their mother, a nurse, worked long hours. Immediately bitten by the culinary bug, A.J. was barely 14 when she landed an after-school job at a catering company. The chef must have recognized drive and talent, because he encouraged A.J. to think about attending the CIA and formalize her culinary education.
After high school, A.J. enrolled at the CIA. Her experience was filled with the exceptional relationships she developed with her chef-instructors. She remembers Chef Frederick Brash ’76, who taught Cuisines of the Americas; Chef Prem Kumar, who was advisor to the Gourmet Society when A.J. was president; and Chef Lou Jones, who, during her year as an MIT in Escoffier after graduation, held her to a very high standard. Every one of these experiences helped set A.J. on a path of personal excellence and high expectations.
After meeting the director of human resources for restaurant Daniel at a CIA career fair, and performing not one but two stages, A.J. was offered an externship slot at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant in New York City. Knowing that Daniel was where she wanted to work upon graduation, A.J. didn’t just hope—she kept her foot in the door by going back down to the city on weekends to help with the restaurant’s banquets and catering events, and volunteering for a huge Meals on Wheels fundraiser. And then, at last, came the offer of a job.
At Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, A.J. worked nearly every station starting with garde manger and rotisserie. After just a year she moved into the catering department. Her remarkable organizational skills did not go unnoticed when the recipe editor left. A.J. took on additional responsibilities of testing recipes; ordering and planning food and equipment for off-site events; cooking at wine and food festivals; working on the recipes for Daniel’s cookbooks; and writing plans for staff training. Eventually, she rose up the ranks to Culinary Manager for the entire Dinex Group.
After seven years with Daniel, A.J. received an offer to be the culinary director at sommelier Laura Maniec’s Corkbuzz Wine Studio. In 2015, A.J. moved to Virginia and took a position as a Culinary Specialist at the Culinary Research and Education Academy (CREA) in Alexandria, VA. Founded by scientist and sous-vide pioneer Dr. Bruno Goussault in Paris in 1991, CREA has trained many of the top chefs on the application of sous-vide cooking including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the late Charlie Trotter, and Mark Miller. In fact, almost every Michelin Guide three-star chef has received personal sous-vide training from Dr. Goussault.
A.J.’s career has taken her from the world of fine dining to creating dishes for wine pairing to culinary education. Now she can pass on the lessons she learned at the CIA and the experience she’s gained along the way to inquisitive chefs eager to learn the technique of sous vide. It would seem that she has found her game, and is winning with grace.