Tyler Harper – Student Bio

Photo of CIA culinary arts student, Tyler Harper

“I knew I needed to learn from the best if I was ever going to be truly successful. I compared the top culinary schools in the U.S., the CIA made the most sense for me.”

Major: Associate Degree in Culinary Arts
Campus: St. Helena, CA

Hometown: Soso, MS

How did you become interested in food?
I’ve always had a passion for cooking, but one summer I started making artisan frozen desserts and selling what I made at farmers’ markets in Mississippi. I realized it didn’t feel like work at all when I was working on something I was passionate about. I sold out every week, too!

Do you already have a degree from another college or did you previously have a different career?
Yes. I worked in public relations for seven years.

Why did you decide to change careers and attend culinary college?
If you asked me from age five to age 14, I would have told you my plan was culinary school. But when I graduated high school in 2007—right before the recession—and started college at Ole Miss, a traditional degree was a much safer bet than it is today.

Then, a few summers ago, a close friend told me how she was making several hundred dollars a week selling baked goods at our local farmers’ market. I had recently purchased a professional ice cream machine and had been experimenting pretty successfully at that, so I decided to try my hand at selling frozen desserts on the weekends. When I was pricing the ice cream, I almost totally forgot to figure in my labor. That’s when I realized I didn’t even think of cooking as work, while I dreaded dealing with my PR clients every day. I knew I’d never thrive in PR and be truly successful, so I needed to make a change.

I knew I had to get my parents on board since I couldn’t afford culinary school by myself. I sat them down, told them I was thinking about it, and they said it was a great idea! They had apparently been thinking the same thing for some time, too.

Why did you choose the CIA?
I knew I needed to learn from the best if I was ever going to be truly successful in this industry. I compared the top culinary schools in the U.S., and ultimately the CIA made the most sense for me. I’ve been here for seven months now, and when people ask me how I like it, I tell them, “I’m thriving!”

How have scholarships and/or grants helped you reach your goal of getting a CIA education?
I have received both, and scholarships and grants have helped me tremendously. A $2,000 scholarship actually saves me closer to $4,000 in the end because I’d have to borrow the money and pay interest over several years otherwise.

What do you like best about the CIA?
I love that everyone at the CIA is so unique, yet we all share a passion for food.

Do you belong to any clubs or participate in any activities/sports on campus?
I am the founder of Greystone’s current LGBTQ+ organization, Pride Club. I am also an orientation leader and my section’s group leader, and I tutor my peers through Greystone’s Learning Strategies Center.

What is your favorite dish to make? Why?
I’ve been making fried chicken since I was 12, so it’s definitely my favorite. It’s a crowd pleaser, and I love seeing people enjoy what I cook. I also love to make Bananas Foster because I have a wicked sweet tooth. Flambéing the bananas is a lot of fun for me, and I think most people here at the CIA share my mild pyromania.

How has your CIA education prepared you for the business side of food?
I’m actually currently in a class all about profit management. The chefs here have a lot of great business advice, too. They are always giving pointers about how to increase your profits in an industry with notoriously small margins. I’ve learned how just the way you plate a dish can impact how well it sells dramatically, and serving spicy, salty food in your bar can drive up your beverage sales.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned while at the CIA?
Learning to work with a diverse group of people has been great. I’ve also really enjoyed learning about food safety, although that’s not everyone’s favorite.

What are your career goals and how will your CIA education help you get there?
I’d like to create New American cuisine with a southern flare and historical influences. I love old recipes and the stories they tell about the time and place they came from. The CIA does a good job teaching a variety of cuisines, and the chef-instructors share a lot of knowledge about the provenance of the recipes as well. Honestly, I think the business education I’m getting here will help me the most regardless of what sector of the hospitality industry I end up in after culinary school.

What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
I’d say if it’s your passion, take the leap. Two years seems like a long time, but it goes by too fast!