Article from the student newspaper, La Papillote. Written by CIA Chef-Instructor Rob Mullooly ‘93, CEC, CHE.
For my entire career, there have been people who have helped me along the way. This is a business of networking, keeping in touch and volunteering your own time. This is an industry that can be extremely intense, rewarding, and satisfying. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities there will be for you. This starts with the right attitude and willingness to learn. Chefs, owners, managers, and other cooks all wish to help you succeed. You never know who will be the one who will help you get to the next level.
At the age of seventeen when I told my father that I wanted to become a chef, he was in disbelief: “You’re going to college to become an accountant or a stock broker.” I stomped out of the room knowing he didn’t understand. I had a drive, I had vision, and I loved food.
I had been working at a deli for about a year and loved making food. We were producing dishes like Eggplant Parmesan, Crab Stuffed Filet of Flounder, and Chicken Wings. I loved the action, I loved the urgency and I loved the feeling of having customers saying, “that looks great” or “I had the flounder yesterday and it was fantastic!” I needed to pursue a food career and nothing was going to hold me back.
I went back to my dad and I continued the conversation. I told him about my passion. He warned me about the long hours. I told him about my drive. He warned me about working on holidays. My dad was looking out for me; he was trying to protect me from making a big mistake. He was a smart man who looked at things from all angles. I hated that about him, but he was usually right.
My father told me to be smart about my decision. He advised me to investigate this career choice before I made a decision. I was directed to put on a suit and pick five restaurants and knock on their doors to talk with the chefs. He wanted me to ask them questions like; “Do you like being a chef? Do you make good money? Do you work long hours?” Etc.
The answers I got from these chefs all varied. Some were happy and remarked, “Do what you want to do kid,” or, “If you like food and cooking, go for it!” Others were miserable and said, “Don’t do it kid, if your dad wants you to be a stockbroker and he can pay for your college, be a stock broker.”
The last chef I went to visit worked at a country club that my parents belonged to. His name I will never forget, Chef John Erickson. He was a graduate of the CIA and carried with him a presence of professionalism and pride for his work. I was in awe of the food that they were doing while I waited to speak with him. I was nervous, scared, and shaking after watching this kitchen run with such precision. His office that we spoke in was neat, clean, and organized. Everything about this place was professional. It was a model of efficiency. I knew him from the club as a kid growing up. He would often work the dining room and say hello to our family. Now, I was having an interview with him about his career!
Chef Erickson could not have been nicer to me. He spent probably two hours discussing himself and his career. The first thing he did to help me on my journey was phone the executive chef at a well-known hotel on Long Island called the Garden City Hotel. He got me an interview; I was blown away! The chef was previously the executive chef at Union Square Café for years and recently just started at the hotel. I got hired as a prep cook. Before I knew it, I was off and running!
I worked at the hotel for a year of so. All the chefs, sous chefs, and cooks were CIA alumni and externs. They encouraged me to go to school for formal training. I applied and needed letters of recommendation. Since I really did not have too much experience, I asked Chef Erickson from my parents’ country club for a letter of recommendation. He wrote me a character reference. I was accepted to the school.
Fast forward twenty-two years later. This part gives me chills as I write it. I am a Chef-Instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in the American Bounty restaurant. One day during a busy lunch service, the host came into the kitchen and said that there was a chef who would like to say hello to me. I replied, “I would be happy to say hello. Please bring him back to the kitchen.” Chef John Erickson walked through the doors of the America Bounty kitchen. My eyes started filling up with joy, I couldn’t speak. I was suddenly thrown back in time. The chef who got me started was standing in front of me, the person who showed me the way into this business, the friend who took a chance on making a recommendation to another chef not knowing if I as any good. This was a defining moment in my career. He couldn’t believe it either. His pride showed in his face. Chef Erickson looked at me as if I were his own son who had accomplished so much. He announced, “Chef Mullooly, it’s nice to see that you’ve done so well.” We talked for a long time that day catching up. We exchanged cards promising to keep in touch.
I never knew that the choice I made way back would lead me on such a successful path. From the deli to the CIA and all the jobs in between, I met people who helped me along the way. This industry has given me a life that I can be proud of. Yes, we work hard. Yes, we will not always be home on the holidays, Yes, it can be physically challenging. I would never be so prideful working in any other industry. I love this. Make smart decisions, listen to the people who have advice for you and simply return the favor. This is how it works.