How did you become interested in food?
Growing up in Southwest Louisiana, I was always around good food. My grandfather was who really got me into food. He was often found standing over a big cast iron pot, Miller Lite in hand—and I could be found right next to him cutting onions or one of the other parts of the Cajun trinity. I would always ask when the food is going to be done, and he would reply “In about two more beers.” Just thinking of him, I can smell the Catfish Coubion!
Why did you choose the CIA?
Honestly, the CIA sort of chose me. I could never have imagined being able to go to the best culinary school in the world. I was a line cook for a year in a steak house at the local casino thinking, “this is my life forever, just being a cook.” Then a retired chef-instructor from the CIA and I crossed paths at the casino—my chef at the time was a 1995 CIA graduate and this man was his teacher way back when. The ex-instructor pulled me aside one day and said “We will make a call to get you to New York,” and the rest is history. If it wasn’t for this man putting his name behind me and initiating my transition to becoming a student at the CIA, I would probably still be in that restaurant.
What do you like best about the CIA?
I love that I am surrounded by a group of like-minded people who just love everything about food. No matter where you are on the campus, an interesting conversation can spark up at any second about all things food.
What’s your favorite dish to make? Why?
Fresh pasta is my comfort in the kitchen; there’s just something about it. Working the dough with my hands brings me to a tranquil place. Also, the dough requires some love, not only when kneading it but also rolling it out to the perfect thickness, making sure it doesn’t stretch too much. Plus, fresh pasta can be stuffed with cheesy and meaty goodness or just cut into noodles, quickly cooked, and then tossed with quality butter and grated parmesan cheese. The whole process really is pleasing to me.
How has your CIA education prepared you for the business side of food?
The restaurant industry runs on very slim margins. The CIA has taught me to utilize the food product down to the stems or bones. The associate degree program teaches you the ins and outs of the kitchen, while CIA’s bachelor’s program fine-tunes these skills into a specific focus. As I will soon graduate with a bachelor’s in culinary science, I feel prepared for the industry with the set of skills I have obtained. The business dress code required also puts you in a professional state of mind that has inspired me to be the best I can be.
What is/are the best lesson(s) you’ve learned while at the CIA?
On the first day of school three years ago, President Ryan said, “Never let the person next to you work harder than you.” I took that to heart and put his words into action. Another great lesson I’ve learned is not to depend on another to do something for you—get up, get out, and do it! Also, attention to detail, attention to detail, attention to detail!
What are your career goals and how will your CIA education help you get there?
My long-term goal is to have my own line of sustainable, minimally processed food products being sold in stores across America. My short-term goals include traveling to learn the gold standard of dishes from different cultures around the world and becoming an R&D chef technician. The CIA has guided me to become a professional who is equipped with the skills of a restaurant chef and an understanding of the science of food. The knowledge and connections gained from the CIA have prepared me for the quickly evolving world of food.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Keep your head down and say “Yes Chef,” but also don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always have sharp knives. Cuts and burns do heal. If you mess up on a dish, don’t beat yourself up, just step back and analyze the situation, recalculate the plan of attack, and get right back to it! Embrace this school for everything it has to offer. The library is your dojo. A chef is only as good as his wits. Meet people—the personal and business connections you make here are priceless. Seize the day. Oh, and don’t touch Chef Higgins rolls until he says so!