John Bell

Chef John Bell

Areas of Expertise: Opening Restaurants, Menu Writing, Nutrition Education, and Problem Solving
Years in Industry: 36+ (25 as Executive Chef)
Credentials: Certified Executive Chef (CEC), Accredited Culinary Evaluator (ACE), Licensed Culinary Educator – State of Florida
Professional Associations: American Culinary Federation
Personal Motto: “Give more than you take, teach all you know, and learn from everyone.”
Culinary Philosophy: Cook and eat fresh and seasonal. Incorporate fresh flavors, not salt.

What prompted you to become a Chef? 

Growing up I was one of ten children and my dad was a great cook, helping him was a treat and you always got to taste everything. He was a teacher but his love was food. After he died I followed both of our dreams.

Did you have a Chef Mentor? If so, who was your Chef Mentor and what did they teach you? 

Pam Snyder, vocational culinary teacher. She taught me to always believe in yourself and to embrace criticism as it’s a wonderful tool and the only way to grow. Also, she taught me leadership, patience in others, and that respect is earned not given.

What is the best part of being a Chef? 

First, is being able to make others happy. Meeting unique people, both average and celebrities. Being able to work anywhere in the world. Always learning and being creative constantly while being challenged.

“Being able to make others happy.”

What is the hardest part of being a Chef? 

Working long physical hours. Missing every holiday and not having regular days off. Incredible stress with lots of responsibility. A business’s success and many people’s jobs rely on your ability to manage and make money. Another hard aspect is that family life suffers from being gone often.

In your opinion, how are culinary reality shows different from the real culinary industry? 

The TV personalities are not often trained professionals, but rather a face. Most often a true skilled chef sets up the food, preps the food, and does the research on recipes. Only the TV personality is visible the work involved is never shown. Sanitation is not shown, and the real time of work or cleaning up after is never shown. The food network does promote our craft but does not share what it takes to be successful at all. They don’t explain the true hours to prepare or work. They give a false reality of being a celebrity when most chefs work crazy and stressful jobs with money that only comes after much experience and exceptional business sense.

If you traveled back to the beginning of your culinary career, what advice would you give yourself?

I would have traveled more and trained overseas. Years ago I was given a chance to work in France I did not take it. Also, I would tell myself to take advantage of opportunities school offered and listened to those with more experience. Young people tend to believe they know everything and don’t always except advice.

“I would tell myself to take advantage of opportunities school offered and listened to those with more experience.”

What advice would you give someone striving to become a Chef today? 

First, would be take your time learning for at least 5 years under a couple experienced chefs. Work in a hotel to learn large operations. Travel abroad if at all possible to learn different cultures and foods. Lastly, get a degree and listen to advice of people who have lived the experience.

What should someone think about before beginning culinary school? 

What is their goal for culinary school – to be a chef, own a business, manage, nutrition, etc.? Weigh all options and research each field to understand what it involves. Work or interview others that have worked in industry. Understand both the benefits and down falls of each area in culinary. Know dedication, hard work and sacrifice are the keys to success in this field.

“Work or interview others that have worked in industry.”

Many future chefs dream of opening a restaurant, what advice would you give them? 

Before opening a restaurant one must understand more than just the craft of cooking. Work in several types of businesses both small and large to learn what they do to succeed. Also learning front of house is so very important, you can’t operate a business from just the back. Learn how to lead people, understand, and manage them. Talk to business owners to learn about taxes, employee patrol, and the cost of running an operation. Study demographics to understand clientele and identify what will work in a specific area. Lastly, make sure you have two years of backing to cover any shortfall of problems that occur. They will happen and being prepared will help you survive.

What are some of the most important skills someone must possess when entering the industry today? 

Communication, math, interpersonal, adversity, handling pressure, classical styles, knife skills, computer skills, and rounded cooking techniques (baking, sauté, etc.). To truly succeed one needs a passion to always expand and learn. Understanding old styles of food and traditions. Cleanliness, and work ethic is impeccable.

“To truly succeed one needs a passion to always expand and learn.”

What tools and/or resources do you rely on the most and why?

As a chef, my knives are a part of me and everything I do. Understanding modern equipment and how it affects food and textures are important. In today’s world, the computer is a great tool to learn, promote yourself, conduct business, and connect with other culinary professionals. Being a part of American Culinary Federation helps keep me on top of my game such as trends in food, nutrition, and techniques. It also helps someone network around the world with every type of culinary professional, to share knowledge, discuss business plans, and challenge skills constantly to stay honed.

In your opinion, what is the most successful culinary path and how can this be achieved? 

For me to achieve Master Chef is the ultimate achievement. Literally, at this level any door will open you wish in culinary. How to reach it? Constant training, learning, and a life of complete dedication. Working through any obstacle, even when things don’t seem worth it. Not missing work, listening with an open mind, and accepting criticism. Learning from mistakes and following traditions. On another spectrum nutrition and knowledge of both food and science is important. Knowing how to utilize fresh foods, and prepare food for every type of person. You achieve this by continually learning, being involved with professional organizations (ACF), hard work, dedication, sacrifice, listening, and having a love for food.