Christopher Harper: Army Medic Turned Chef

Photo of Christoper Harper, CIA culinary arts student

“You can go to other culinary schools to learn how to cook and follow directions, but the CIA prepares you to give those directions.”

CIA Student Bio

How did you become interested in food?
I was medically discharged from the Army, where I was a 68w medic. The next five years were hard; I was diagnosed with some mental health issues that made it necessary for me to discontinue work in the medical field. One night I was watching Twitch.TV and saw A Taste of History on their food stream. Watching Chef Walter Staib sent me on a rabbit trail that eventually led to the CIA San Antonio.

Do you already have a degree from another college or did you previously have a different career?
Yes. I had a medical career, and hold a mechanic school certificate.

Why did you choose the CIA?
It’s the place to go to learn how to be a leader in the culinary world. You can go to other culinary schools to learn how to cook and follow directions, but the CIA prepares you to give those directions.

How have scholarships and/or grants helped you reach your goal of getting a CIA?
Currently I use the Post 9-11 GI Bill. It has put me through part of nursing school and now culinary school. The 100% payment, book stipend, and housing payment have enabled me to focus on my culinary future, and take extensive care of my mental health.

Photo of Christopher Harper, CIA culinary arts student and US veteran

What do you like best about the CIA?
The San Antonio campus is very small and close-knit. It’s nice to work so closely with such accomplished chefs.

What is your favorite dish to make?
I love making stir fry. It’s a perfect marriage of flavors and spices, takes very little time to make, and tastes great even as leftovers.

How has your CIA education prepared you for the business side of food?
The actual logistics of how a kitchen is run and how the food supply system works were very, very foreign to me. The CIA is helping me understand how the machine works, bit by bit.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned while at the CIA?
Breathe. You don’t have to do everything perfectly. I was also told by Chef (Justin) Ward to focus on the protein the most, and that a subpar veg was easier for customers to overlook than a poorly done protein.

What are your career goals and how will your CIA education help you get there?
I want to open my own restaurant, and the CIA will provide a perfect leaping point for that goal. I plan on getting my bachelor’s from the CIA and possibly an MBA afterward.

What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
You’re going to cut yourself. Mentally prepare and deal with it early. Also, keep your knives sharp; sharp knives are the safest.

Christopher Harper is a U.S. Army veteran and CIA student completing his Associate Degree in Culinary Arts. His hometown is San Antonio and attends classes at CIA’s Texas campus in San Antonio.