Chef Reid Shilling ’12: The CIA Stood Out Above the Rest
“The CIA introduced me to skills I would need to to thrive in the industry. “
CIA Alumni Bio
Reid Shilling ’12 grew up in a food industry family. The Shilling Canning Company began operation in 1935 in Finksburg, MD, preserving tomatoes, corn, peas, and green beans from their Carroll County farms. The company was known for its high-quality products and honest name.
Reid graduated with a degree in hospitality and went to work with Hillstone Restaurant Group in New York City and Los Angeles as a kitchen manager, training employees in the company’s MIT program. Eager to delve more into the culinary aspects of the kitchen, he enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America’s Accelerated Culinary Arts Program (ACAP) at the St. Helena, CA campus. After working at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, CA and The Dabney in Washington, DC, Reid and his wife Sara opened their restaurant Shilling Canning Company in the Navy Yard of the nation’s capital, serving seasonal Mid-Atlantic cuisine.
How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?
As a very young kid I was always fascinated by food. I spent a lot of time cooking with my grandmother, father, and mother in the kitchen. At the age of nine, I went to a restaurant that had an open kitchen. It was the first time I had ever seen a commercial kitchen; I watched in amazement. I pointed at the chefs, tugged on my mom’s sleeve, and told her “when I grow up, I want to do that.” The rest is history.
Why did you choose the CIA?
The CIA has always been a goal of mine. I looked at a few different culinary schools at different times in my life and the CIA stood out above the rest.
How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?
I did this all backwards. I started working in restaurants in 1998, then got a degree in hospitality in 2004 and spent seven years managing kitchens and restaurants in very busy, privately held “corporate” restaurants. Essentially I was self-taught, or educated by the companies I worked for. For the most part, recipes and techniques were determined by someone else. Leaving this role and coming to the CIA allowed me to build on the techniques that form the foundation of cooking. When I completed ACAP, I had multiple offers from renowned and Michelin-starred restaurants. I ultimately took a position with Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at Bouchon. It’s one of the tightest and most well-run kitchens in the country and I continued to grow from there. The CIA introduced me to skills I would need to to thrive in the industry.
What did you like best about your CIA experience?
It was a second launching pad for my career, and I met my wife, Sara. We were in the same class, and she’s been a huge influence on my career and our projects together.
What is the best lesson you learned at the CIA?
Be prepared. Preparation begins days before, and sometimes before that.
What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?
I don’t have a class per se, but Bill Briwa was an amazing mind. I know he passed away, which is incredibly sad. He was the kind of person who had so much knowledge and was willing to share it rather than keep it locked up.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Making people happy.
What are some challenges that students may face in the industry?
Culinary school isn’t the industry, and a lot of kids don’t realize this. A six-hour, hand-held class where students work at mostly their own pace is not reality. Most high-end or high-volume restaurants are demanding. The ask is incredible and it’s hard for school to prepare you for that.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Make sure you are passionate and want to work hard. Work in a restaurant for a year or two before committing to culinary school. In recent years the industry has been glorified by TV and media spotlighting a few extraordinary and deserving, very hardworking people who have put everything they have on the line to chase their passion. The CIA will help you reach your goals and dreams, but you need to understand what they are and the work that it takes to achieve them.
Chef Reid Shilling graduated with an Accelerated Culinary Arts Program (ACAP) from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA. Heis the owner and chef of the Shilling Canning Company in Washington, DC.