December 5, 2019

Anatole Sullivan: Overcoming Challenges Head-On—In the Kitchen and in Life

Anatole Sullivan

I entered Roth Hall dressed in my kitchen whites when I felt the inspection of many sets of eyeballs gravitating toward me. Anxious and uncertain of myself, I rushed down the hall so as not to prolong the inevitable. You see, I was born with only part of my left arm—it stops just before the elbow and I was about to walk into my first culinary fundamentals kitchen. There was no way I could dodge the stares this time. My chef, who looked stern and scary, glanced at me and the sweat trickled down my back as my class inspected me with curiosity.

Yet, here I was at The Culinary Institute of America, stepping into the stress, sweat and rigorous workouts of the kitchen. I was inspired by seeing a blind home-cook win MasterChef Season Three, and I was determined to replicate that remarkable success, demonstrating that people can reach unparalleled success despite significant challenges in their lives. With my genuine curiosity and strong intellectual desire to be in this field, I approached the CIA with an open mind. And while some days I doubted myself, my chef-instructors greatly encouraged me, which made it possible for me to excel with confidence, resilience, and creativity.

To learn to succeed in a professional environment that requires exceptional dexterity was quite a difficult transition and a challenge, which was initially discouraging. Entered the CIA without any previous experience in the kitchen, much less possessing skills in the culinary arts, meant that I would have to devise alternative strategies to perform specific kitchen skills. I learned to accept that food preparation, where multitasking was necessary, would be a particular challenge and that I would have to ask for help whenever I needed it. For example, pouring clarified butter into my warm egg yolks while rapidly whisking to emulsify them into a hollandaise sauce required that I requested assistance.

Knife skills proved to be my most significant obstacle and something I had to get creative and figure out myself.  Determined to achieve perfection, I spent countless hours slicing planks of potatoes into juliennes and shaving sides of a broccoli stem into tourne cuts. I stayed after fish class to practice fabricating Atlantic salmon into two flawless fillets. By working without complaint and apparent calm, and accepting constructive criticism, I managed to approach this obstacle head-on with persistence and tenacity. I approached every challenge with this mindset, and I began to feel comfortable working around the non-disabled; it was like a huge burden had finally been lifted.

As a result of my accomplishments during the associate degree program and by demonstrating a commitment to excellence, a number of my chef-instructors nominated me for one of the CIA’s most prestigious awards—The Statler Scholarship of Excellence 2019-2020—given to scholars who have a passionate commitment to the hospitality industry. I was excited to learn that I received this very special honor from The Statler Foundation. My sincerest gratitude goes to the chefs for having my back and offering me their never-ending support, and to The Statler Foundation for their generous contribution to my education and for their investment in me and my future.

I will always remember that it was a person who had real challenges, whose success story inspired me to reach for my dreams. Now, I am here at the CIA as a representative and, I hope, an inspiration to other students with disabilities. I hope to popularize the belief that if you pursue your dreams with passion and dedication, then you can achieve anything you set your mind to regardless of the circumstances. You don’t have to prove anything; just demonstrate that you are strong, abled, and passionate. Show your mental toughness in the face of all challenges. The bottom line is—the only obstacle between you and success, is you.

By Anatole Sullivan Anatole recently completed his associate degree and opted to continue his education and study for his bachelor’s in applied food studies. In addition to The Statler Scholarship of Excellence, Anatole has received The Allen Family Scholarship, Chuck Williams Legacy Scholarship, The Julia Child Foundation Scholarship for Culinary Writing, Royal H. Durst Endowed Scholarship, and Vincent Fatigati ’80 Memorial Endowed Scholarship in support of his education.