I have been working in the food service business for over 23 years. I graduated from a top culinary school and have worked in a variety of culinary environments, including bars, grills, steakhouses, private residences, full-serving, fine dining, hotels, fraternities, international airports, health spas, and also have experience in TV food styling.
My friends and family always thought that I would end up owning my own restaurant one day…and perhaps I will. With that being said, I never thought I would end up working for a food service management company that focuses on colleges and universities.
When you think college dining, it brings visions of the high school lunch ladies, Adam Sandler singing about sloppy Joe’s, prison food, cardboard pizza and frozen macaroni with cheese. When I was a student at a large state college, the dining hall meals were so unappealing that I opted for the salad bar. I also learned that ranch dressing could save anything.
The atmosphere and frontier of college and university dining has changed. The new generations of students are up to date with the latest food trends, crave diversity and ethnic cuisine, and more importantly – demand fresh, authentic meals. During my time as a chef at Fresh Ideas, I have cooked as many as six different ethnic dishes in a single day. My menus change each week, and we also plan special events and meals for the students on a regular basis.
The new landscape of college dining requires that chefs and cooks possess something unique. Even the most seasoned cooks can crash and burn, mostly due to the fact that they are used to a specific, set menu without deviation. Fresh Ideas demands more of their culinarians. To succeed in this fast-paced environment, you have to have a true love for food. You have to be passionate about your career and the business of food. I breathe, eat, and constantly think of creating the next dish and making it even better than before. The drive to learn, exceed, and perfect your craft must be there. You also have to learn from your surroundings, like farmer’s markets, cookbooks, family, students, documentaries, and other chefs. As chefs, we will never be perfect – but striving for perfection, innovation, and creativity is what sets the good chefs apart from the great chefs.
With that being said, it’s important to remember that our hourly employees are the heartbeat of our company. They have the freshest ideas because they communicate and interact with our students on a day-to-day basis. The culture we strive for in our kitchens is something I have not seen elsewhere. We encourage our employees to make new discoveries in the culinary world. We brainstorm together, utilize every resource, and always test the boundaries of our client’s palates.
Nothing ever turns out like you think. I look back and think about all the places I have been, and think about all of the kitchens I have worked in. I also think about the sacrifices we make in this profession. The hours are long, sometimes we miss important celebrations of our families and friends because we are working. Still, I go back for more. All I have ever wanted to do is make people happy with my food.
“Chef this is the best Jambalaya I ever had, don’t tell my mom…”
“I never had sushi before, this is greatest, when are we having again?!”
These moments make the 12-hour days worth every minute. Someone once said, that if you truly love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life. Remember, happy cooks, cook happy food. Forget about the titles, I just want to put a smile on your face after you have taken a bite of my latest creative endeavor.
Original, in French: La bonne cuisine est la base du veritable bonheur. English: Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness. Auguste Escoffier
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