CIA Commencement Speech on April 13th 2018, San Antonio

Thankful I was able to stand in front of proud parents and families who supported the graduating class. Thankful for the recognition of the Culinary Institute of America as an ambassador. I talked about most of this and a little more on Friday morning.

CIA Commencement Speech April 13th

I thank you, I congratulate and applaud you. I am proud of you and your chosen education; I commend you on your learning’s and pray for your future. I hope you stay in the kitchen, it’s a beautiful place and after 31 years of cooking, it has only improved. I can tell stories and I can write a better book. I am honored for the chance to be here today and to impart some wisdom and hopefully inspire, some advice here is short term and other items are for long term. The kitchen is the best place to be, it is a second family and it is your responsibility to keep this moving forward, for safe, healthy, compassionate and prosperous kitchens.

As you transition into cooks, yes, a cook, we are all cooks. Cook is a verb and cooking a way of life. Chef is just a title and as you mature you will understand that cooking is the easy part. You will always want to be known as someone who can cook.

Cooking should be your oxygen, food your religion, you study it, you talk about it and you know your product. You will know as much as the people you work with, it is an immeasurable resource not always accounted for. Cooking just happens to be something you get paid for, it should be as natural as breathing whether you are at work or at home. Giving, preparing, sharing at the table is the utmost importance, it is what brings us all together, we all have this in common.

This plan for success, I am not telling you what to do, I am just telling you a plan that works, a healthy suggestion. Not all careers are a train ride to the top, there are moments your job or title might flat line or dip a little and that is ok, nothing is straight, you can learn from all experiences. Titles and names on jackets do not make a better chef. Be patient, be kind, be trainable and coachable.

I would advise that you work for three types of chefs: one that is great at production, a monster at feeding large quantities of people at an immense operation, the second chef should be kind, good to people, a mentor, a guide and a good cook, the third should be fantastic with food prep and quality of plating, creative, disruptive and a cult of personality. You will never get all three in one, you might find elements of two in a chef but the combination is difficult. Remember, that in a kitchen, more knowledge is caught than taught.

The important piece of your success is a partner, you cannot do this alone. It is the utmost sacrifice for someone to be connected to you. The star of my success is my wife, she should talk to you about support, love and understanding. Being a cook is the most selfish profession in the world, there is nothing like it and nothing more selfish than cooking. I am thankful that my wife understands this, sees through this and enables me to do what I do. I owe all I do and have become to her. Your success is on who you partner with, its not you, the world is bigger than you.

Communication and connections are huge, good cooks never have to look for a job. Be the person you want to hire, think like a chef, always have the right answer. Best way to succeed is to respond all the time with “Yes, Chef”. More cooks move up faster through the ranks with those two words. The next bonus words which chefs love is “What next, Chef?” Save up for gastronomic adventures, you might have to eat beans and rice but you can have a great travel and eating story to share with your co workers. Watch what you spend money on, be smart and taste the world.

When you start your career, these tips will help:

Know the background of the chef, where they worked and the history of who they worked for as well as school, research the menus and have an experience in the restaurants, find a connection. Chefs love to hear their name and where they have been recognized with award, print or social media, its like honey down your ears, so good to hear that someone is paying attention and watching.

When you get to work, be on time, take notes, look good, no dirty cooks, take pride in your appearance. Own sharp knives and the right tools for the right job. Get your tools before tattoos, individuality and personal style is great, very nice ink, but make certain your knives are sharp first. Know what you don’t know, ask questions and take notes, don’t go rogue on recipes or methods. There are 1000 ways to make one thing and in my kitchen we will make it my way thank you. Always respect the chef and their reason because at the end of the day no one is forcing you to pick up that paycheck. If you do not like the food and methods or flavors, then go on your way. Be accountable to your career and allow someone to cook in that position instead of you to deposit that paycheck and claim the benefits.

Your job at cooking requires all the skills you learned at school, a couple others to remember are GBD, golden brown and delicious when you are sautéing or roasting. Always taste everything all the time, taste is everything. Chefs watch cooks taste food as much as they do the guests. Simple food is the hardest, not to be confused with easy food. Simple food is one of our industries biggest failures, restraint is hard, have good product and treat it with respect, know your flavors, preparation and results.

Read, a lot, on line and hardcopy. Read the liner notes of all the good cookbooks, they have amazing stories and lessons even before you get to the recipes and pictures. Keep these books close, they will last forever and always will be your compass and barometer.
Escoffier Cookbook
Harold McGee –On Food and Cooking
Patton –One Minute Messages

When you are not working, be healthy. Being a chef does not entitle you to smoke and drink or eat fast food. Ask yourself before you put anything questionable in, ‘does this make me a better chef?’ It will not last if you do not take care of yourself, hard living is not glamorous. Your quality of life is important to the kitchen, exercise, be healthy, take care of others.

Good luck to you, best wishes, I hope to cook for you soon.

John

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