“It will be difficult in the real world of hospitality, but CIA helped me to remain humble and provided me the tools to gain the experience needed to move up the ranks in this incredible industry.”
Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: Assistant Director, Restaurants & Bars/Executive Chef at The Temple House Chengdu—Swire Hotels
Location: Chengdu City, Sichuan, China
How did you become interested in cooking?
Growing up, I was immersed in home-cooked meals, with both sets of grandparents as well as my own parents cooking meals and baking desserts during the holidays. I soon realized I loved this business. After high school graduation, I got a job in a very nice steak house cooking in the kitchen with my friends. I liked it very much and especially enjoyed the creative aspect of cooking. I moved up quickly there, and enrolled in hospitality classes in the local community college. My instructor told me about the CIA, as he was an alumnus.
Why did you choose the CIA?
After hearing about the CIA from my instructor, I decided to fly to Hyde Park for a tour of the campus. I fell in love with it quickly and started there five or six months later.
What is your most cherished memory of the CIA?
I loved many things about CIA. I grew up in California so it was nice to live in the northeast climate and experience the seasons. Produce seemed to have more of a special quality about it compared to the West Coast where it’s warm all year long. I would also say CIA fostered a special culture among the students and chefs. CIA has always been known to be one of the best culinary schools in the world—if not the best. And this meant something to us going there. It still does to this day when people ask me about it.
What made you decide to go to China?
In 2007, the economy was crashing and I was working for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in San Francisco. There was an opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong with the company, so I decided to take it. After working in Hong Kong for two years, I had another opportunity to move to Suzhou, China in Jiangsu Province to work for another hotel group. After visiting the hotel, I was excited by the variety of restaurants I’d be able to work with and the city seemed very foreigner-friendly. So I decided to accept the position.
How did a CIA education help prepare you for a role in food business and hospitality?
In most occupations, the foundation and basics are always the most important. CIA gave me the foundation and the tools to build my career to what it is today. CIA also helped improve my confidence as a cook and as a professional.
How is your chef experience helping you as a manager?
Not all chefs are good managers. Unfortunately, this is widely known throughout our industry, and early on in my career I experienced both good and bad managing chefs. I believe these experiences in my career helped shape me into being a fair, lead-by-example chef and manager.
What is it like to work in another country?
I have to admit there’s a learning curve when it comes to working in a new country. It’s not about the skills needed for cooking or buying produce or creating menus and recipes. These are interchangeable around the world. Adapting to new cultures, habits, and behaviors—dealing with people—is the greatest challenge. And from what I’ve experienced, it’s not for everyone. I find it extremely important to have an open mind and willingness to immerse yourself into a new environment. Learning to communicate and live like a local in any country is terrifying and very exciting. Everyone wants to be treated with dignity and respect, and this is key to surviving in a new country.
What do you like about China? Is there anything you don’t like about it?
I love the fact that life is very different from how I grew up. It’s a very fast-paced environment and you need to be aggressive at times to get what you want or need. I love the many different foods and products available, and I particularly love how cuisine changes from city to city within one province. If I had to dislike anything it would have to be the extreme pollution at times, the over-crowded subways, and the excessive amount of paperwork needed to do anything official.
What advice would you give to a prospective student, especially international, who is considering attending the CIA?
Don’t take this amazing opportunity for granted. Get involved with clubs or activities at school; it’s a good way to make friends quickly. Volunteer or work in campus restaurants or even restaurants in the neighboring region. Every kitchen or service experience will make a difference in your future and give you more confidence as you move along from class to class. Time goes very quickly, so if you stay busy, before you know it you’ll be graduating—and you don’t want to regret not having done something that really interested you.
What is the best lesson you learned while at the CIA?
As mentioned previously, be sure to leave CIA with a solid foundation of cooking and the basic skills needed to be a food professional. It will be difficult in the real world of hospitality, but CIA helped me to remain humble and provided me the tools to gain the experience needed to move up the ranks in this incredible industry.