What is your current role?
Corporate Executive Chef at Wayne Farms
What prompted you to become a Chef?
In the mid to late 70’s I was a soccer player and some of my teammates worked in restaurants so I began working in the industry. It was a great experience because we all looked out for each other and I had guys that would teach me things in the kitchen. My passion spawned from those years. After high school I went to college and studied business economics, which helped me in my career, but I ended up pursuing my passion for culinary.
Did you have a Chef Mentor? If so, who was your Chef Mentor and what did they teach you?
Graham Kerr was my first culinary idol so I looked at him like a mentor as I watched him on TV, and I even had the opportunity to work with him while I was the Corporate Executive Chef for Delta. However, someone who was more of a personal mentor was Jerry Campione. Jerry took me under his wing while I was in school and he taught me a lot about of culinary and he was very philosophical about the industry. We would talk in depth about how to maintain the quality of a dish even when producing for the masses. It’s easy to create a single high quality dish, but then try to produce that same quality for 200 guests. He taught me to treat every guest special and keep them in focus at all times.
“He taught me to treat every guest special and keep them in focus at all times.”
What is the best part of being a Chef?
As the Corporate Chef of Wayne Farms I get to do something different almost every day. It’s my job to put a smile on people’s faces daily and I love every moment and I’m very blessed. I’m very active with culinary in my personal life as well and love being able to make all my friends and family smile with food.
What is the hardest part of being a Chef?
As a Corporate Chef there has been a lot of traveling which can be very hard at times. For my role, it’s important to think two and three moves ahead so I’m constantly forward thinking to ensure I’m prepared. Also, when I’m scheduled to give presentations in different towns I come across kitchens that have minimal equipment or equipment that’s been used way past its prime, so I’m constantly having to adapt to challenges.
In your opinion, how are culinary reality shows different from the real culinary industry?
As a Corporate Chef, which is a little different than other chef roles, I’m usually working Monday through Friday and I work with restaurant owners, some of which own very large companies, so it’s important that I’m professional at all times. I’ve never dropped a four letter word or thrown food or equipment around, it’s just not professional or even necessary. It’s very different from culinary reality shows as they depict a highly emotional and sometimes unprofessional image of our industry. There may be restaurants where someone on the line makes a mistake and vocalizes it, but being highly emotional can derail the operation. The industry is very different from how it’s depict on reality shows.
If you traveled back to the beginning of your culinary career, what advice would you give yourself?
Stay the course, work hard, and never doubt where the path may lead. If somebody would have told me I would be outside of Huntsville, Alabama working as a Corporate Executive Chef 35 years ago I would have said you’ve got to be kidding me. I had aspirations back then of being a chef in a 5-star restaurant, yet I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for where I’m at now. My message again is to simply stay the course and be open to where it leads you.
“Stay the course, work hard, and never doubt where the path may lead.”
What advice would you give someone striving to become a Chef today?
Keep organized, it’s one of the most important things you can do in this business. Do your homework ahead of time so if you’re working on a recipe you’ve got all your ingredients in place, it goes back to mise en place. Focus and set yourself up properly so you reach your goal, and again, it all begins with being organized. Also, make friends with your colleagues, your school mates, and make connections in the industry with tools like LinkedIn so you have opportunities for the future.
“Keep organized, it’s one of the most important things you can do in this business.”
What should someone think about before beginning culinary school?
Think about your commitment towards this industry. It’s not a 9-to-5 job when you start out and it’s very hard work. There are no shortcuts and you have to put your time in, constantly challenge yourself, find ways to improve, and always keep growing. Also, make sure you have food in your heart because it’s that passion that will drive you through your career.
Many future Chefs dream of opening a restaurant, what advice would you give them?
I’ve been involved in many restaurant so my advice is to understand the time commitment and establish trust with who you work with. If I were to open a restaurant tomorrow I’d make sure to train people on both techniques and ways of thinking in different situations. You have to understand both the front of the house and back of the house. In the back you need to know timing, sanitation, and techniques, and in the front you need to understand customer engagement, hospitality, and management. Also, it’s very important to make your menu workable so you can execute well. Don’t try to be everything to everybody, find something you do well and execute flawlessly.
“Don’t try to be everything to everybody, find something you do well and execute flawlessly.”
What are some of the most important skills someone must possess when entering the industry today?
It’s very simply, it’s your basics. You’ve got to know your cuts, sautéing, roasting, sauces, etc. You need to know when a sauce if breaking, temperatures of foods, cuts of meat, all of your basics from culinary school. Then when you’re in the kitchen it’s about teamwork. If the chef asks you to help, then help. Help others whenever they need it. Finally, your timing is critical to ensure plates are getting out on time.
What tools and/or resources (website, groups, culinary/kitchen tools, etc.) do you rely on the most and why?
In my role, again as a Corporate Chef, I’m involved in different areas so for me marketing research is very important. For example, I reviewed some current trends the other day because I was giving 3 presentations and wanted to make sure my creation was relevant in today’s trend. So using the internet to stay on top of the industry is essential for me.
In your opinion, what is the most successful culinary path and how can this be achieved?
Picture a diamond first in your mind where the top represents your higher power – God. Then to the left you have your talents, your culinary skills and technical side of it. Now to the right side you have people. You have people around you in your kitchen and you will lead them as their mentor and teacher. Finally, the last point, which is opposite of God, you have family. It’s your family who is there for you and having them in balance with your career is important. When you can keep all of that in balance, though it is difficult, it can make it worthwhile.
Our audience has a strong desire to make a career in the culinary industry, as such, do you have any final thoughts for them?
Learn your basics and really get them down. If you want to grow in the future these basics will be your foundation. Keep yourself focused and open to new ideas because you never know where the path may take you. Finally, network constantly to make connections that may eventually grow into future opportunities for you.
“Learn your basics and really get them down.”