Serving the Ultimte Diplomats

Le Club des Chefs des Chefs wrap up US tour with lunch at L’Academie de Cuisine 

“Meals have become the means of government” – Brillat-Savarin

When your job is cooking for a president or a king, your peer group is spread pretty thinly around the world.  Who else has coped with the President of Russia’s official taster or has made the president of India’s favorite curry?  Who else can you call to get the President of the United States’ favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe?  So, in order to open channels between palace kitchens, Gilles Bragard founded the Club des Chefs des Chefs in 1977, as a place where chefs of heads of state around the world come to gather.

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Here I am talking w/ Club President, Christian Garcia, Chef of His Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco

Since its founding, members of this elite club take turns hosting the group for one week each summer, showing off the national culinary treasures of the host nation. This year, the Executive Chef of the White House, Cristeta Comerford hosted the group here in the United States, and upon her recommendation, their conference wrapped up with a three-course  luncheon presented by the faculty and students of L’Academie de Cuisine.  It was a great honor to be the first cooking school ever to host the Club des Chefs des Chefs.  Their objective in visiting a small, privately owned cooking school like L’Academie de Cuisine (LADC) was to see—and taste—for themselves the state of professional culinary instruction in the United States.

A wood-fired pizza oven, Fat Frankie’s Pizza, operated by local artisan pizza nomad and LADC graduate, Frank Noto parked in front of the school, and greeted club members with slices of Neapolitan pizza as they disembarked from their charter bus.  In a cacophony of languages and  broken English, we learned how over the past week the club was treated like royalty at local spots including Union Market, Restaurant Eve and Mini Bar. They were also received as dignitaries by President Obama at the White House and by General Secretary Ban Ki Moon in a special meeting at the United Nations.  In a new twist on the annual gathering, the group spent one of their days cooking for 200 of New York’s under privileged community at Xavier Mission, a homeless shelter and food pantry.  These chefs to presidents, kings and queens scrubbed dishes, stirred giant pots of curry, and tossed enormous bowls of chopped salad, proving that gourmet food is not just for the privileged; the hungry can appreciate more than mere sustenance. So the annual meeting of Le Club des Chefs des Chefs represents far more than a gustatory retreat for the culinary elite but a chance to reach out to the global community of those in need.

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My dear colleague Chef Somchet, White House Executive Chef, Cristeta Comerford and Norbert Kostner, Chef to His Majesty the King of Thailand

In addition to face time and shop talk, these annual meetings foster a sense of duty and stewardship among the members.   The club wants to become more involved in local non-profit work like the one in New York, but in cities around the world.  “It is gratifying work for the chefs, and our prestige helps bring awareness to the important issue of food aid”, said The President of Le Club des Chefs des Chefs, who is also the Chef of his Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco.  “After the success of this experience, we intend to bring the group together more frequently than once a year to participate in these kinds of programs.”

Another stop on their US tour included visiting several Amish Farms in Pennsylvania. On this trip the group was joined  by Farmer Lee Jones, owner and founder of Chef’s Garden,  a  farm in Ohio serving vegetables, microgreens and much more to the most discriminating chefs in the country.  But more than just a working farm, The Chef’s Garden, is an oracle of the American renaissance, rediscovering sustainability and quality through heritage best farm practices. “Fine dining does not operate in a vacuum from sensible, sustainable provisions by which all can benefit:  the grower, the processor, the chef, and the consumer,” says Farmer Jones.  “It is incumbent upon a chef to care about the success of the whole process, from grower to diner.”

Over heirloom tomato gazpacho, duck terrine, and summer greens served in a crown made from a long thin, slice of our house baguette, I discussed the club’s mission with Chef of his Majesty King of Sweden, Magnus Ake Rehback. “As chefs to heads of state, we compare notes on best ways to run a state dinner or how to be sensitive to dignitaries from other countries,” he says, “But the most valuable asset of the meeting is face-time with colleagues.” When asked if the club deploys its notoriety to influence public policy, Chef Magnus explained, “In our daily work, each of us operates with a profound level of discretion and privacy, and so it is difficult to publically champion a cause or a sponsor.  When we convene under our club banner we can collectively raise our voice and put our significant influence into action.”

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(Top) Chef Patrice introduces culinary students to the Executive Chefs; LADC staff & students pose with Chef Machindra Kasture, Chef to the President of India, and his wife

Ultimately, there is a menu of global causes the club hopes to rally around more publicly during their annual gatherings.  Chef Rehback hopes to raise awareness about techniques used to track the origins of foods that are sold commercially.  He also dedicates himself to reviving best practices of fisheries and local farming, as well as respect for seasonality.  He is impressed with Amish Farm practices that have endured on the fringes of modern American agriculture and  thankfully now are being rediscovered.  In his own way, he incorporates ingredients into his official menus that he hopes will spark a relevant conversation at the royal table.

While dining on perfectly seasoned halibut (even Bernard Vaussion, Chef of the President of the Republic of France remarked on the precision with which the food was seasoned throughout the menu) the guests discussed both the intricacies of serving a State Dinner as well as rallying around their chosen initiatives.  The annual gathering of club members is an important part of drawing public attention to many global initiatives close to the hearts of many of these chefs. This is why UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon addressed the group about the World Central Kitchen as well as his Zero Hunger Challenge and Millennium Development Goals presently before Congress.  And they discussed with President Obama (and by default if not personally, the First Lady) issues of combating obesity and the State Department’s Culinary Diplomatic Partnership initiative. Organizers of the club point out that collectively the members do influence public debates about food aid, health, waste, and sustainability, and that momentum within the club is really beginning to build. The club refers to their evolving public service agenda as Diplomacy Through Gastronomy.  Individually, the work of each chef is by nature very  discrete, but collectively they can draw attention to many global initiatives.

As noted food anthropologist and author of Hunger for Freedom, Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela, Anne Trapido wrote, “In what we choose to eat, we express who we are and where we come from… cross culturally, and food is an invaluable tool for
communicating emotional messages…”  Or as famed 18th century French diplomat, Talleyrand famously said, “…the fate of nations has often been sealed at a banquet.”

At LADC we got a taste of more than our usual daunting mission of educating future chefs, and possibly the future chefs of heads of state.  We fed and broke bread with those who feed those who make a difference.  And therefore, we make a difference. Teaching cooks is not just about putting young people on the line; it’s about moving civilization forward, one cook at a time.   What better way to hold a conversation about food than over a great lunch.

As the desserts were being served, the club chefs commented on the competency of the student servers , the quality of the seasoning and preparation of the food, and the overall panache of the event.  They all agreed, the state of culinary education is in good hands here at LADC.

As the chefs prepared to depart, dazzled culinary students swarmed the visiting chefs for their autographs, like fans of a rock band.  And the chefs ate up the limelight and lauded compliments and words of wisdom to our students.  Perhaps that is the very best way this brigade of international chefs can get traction on their collective identity, by winning the hearts and minds of the next generation of professional chefs.

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Externship Plus One: What a Year Part III

by Michael Gray

My third and final piece reflecting on my first year in a professional kitchen has to be about the virtuous circle of learning and teaching. Beginning with my first professional job with Minda Metz at The Buzz while still in Phase I to my current place at Family Meal, teaching and learning have been central to my development.  During Phase I at LAC in my Bill Jackson Scholarship essay I noted, “Working with the other cooks and chefs offers me constant opportunity to grow in my new field through both execution and teaching.”  I feel that more strongly now than I did then.

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. Pistachio Cream Pie was the result of weeks of collaboration with Chef Drew as we shared ideas even as he taught me a half-dozen new techniques to get this on a plate.

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have had an externship that offered me so much learning opportunity. At Volt everyone took time to teach whenever possible. From Chef Graeme pushing me to use new techniques and approaches, to others explaining sous vide techniques and rotary evaporators used to distill just about anything, to simple instructions on knife skills and speed improvement I had a great environment to grow. I also consistently heard Chef Patrice’s admonition to, “always do the obvious and observe the subtle.” Amazing how much I learned from watching others while sweating vegetables  or stirring anglaise.

The move to Family Meal game me my first dedicated mentor, Pastry Chef Drew Allen. Chef Drew worked with me on everything related to our station, explaining the science behind each technique and ingredient choice. He also taught me that a good mentor is someone who listens and accepts feedback from the mentee. Menu development and the back-and-forth related to different combinations and approaches to get the desired result showed me how much there is to learn in something like putting a pistachio cream pie on the menu.

Discussing development of the new Rhubarb Ice Cream with LAC Extern Allison Davis.

Discussing development of the new Rhubarb Ice Cream with LAC Extern Allison Davis.

Since Chef Drew’s departure, the tables have turned. I learned how to teach and accept input. One year after being the extern, I now have an extern from LAC to work with and to hopefully provide the same environment and learning opportunities from which I benefited so greatly. After one year, I see clearly evidence of the wise statement that great cooks create great food but great chefs create great cooks. I hope I continue to grow in both categories.

Culinary Students Visit Ayrshire Farm

AF_1Culinary Students Visit Ayrshire for a Perfect Day Down on the Farm

Ayrshire Farm graciously welcomed LAC’s Culinary students back for another tour of their state of the art facilities.  Ayrshire Farms are champions of certified organic farming, reviving traditional best practices of land stewardship and animal husbandry.

We visited the greenhouse which specializes in micro greens, those flavorful and nutritious first shoots of herbs and vegetables that are so much more than a décor on the plate.

We visited the kitchen of the mansion, resplendent in copper and wood, and at its heart, a top of the line cast iron AGA stove, which never goes out.  And yes, those are cat cushions at the foot of the stove; Ayrshire is home to dozens of cats.AF_2

Along the way to the chicken coop, we stopped to check out an Ayrshire Turkey who felt the urge to put on a show for us.  At Thanksgiving, a turkey from Ayrshire can go for over $200!

The visit to the beef  aging room could not have been better timed; Culinary students just had their second beef lecture with Chef Francois the afternoon before!  Our house, Brian Lichorowic gave the students a primer on grading beef, and we each got a chance to grade the hanging carcasses the way the FDA guys do, which is not that scientific.  Here, Bao, Christos, and Taylor are hanging out in the beef room while Sulidan checks the marbling of a prime rib.

AF_3AF_4Here,Isabella, who came out as a vegetarian on this trip, showed her mettle and stepped up to grade the beef hands on.

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Apropos to passing by the poultry area, we reached the chicken’s final destination, the killing room where chickens are processed in the most humane manner in the business.  While FDA agents are stationed at Ayrshire for the entire process of slaughtering and cleaning chickens, Ayshire exceeds all regulations, in fact the local inspectors have had to authorize new certifications just to describe the standards set by Ayrshire poultry.

After visiting the Commissary and Prep Kitchens where all the food is prepared from scratch for the Hunter’s Head Tavern and the Home Farm Store, we had a good conversation about the local bees and honey.  Turns out our host, Brian promotes the consumption of local raw honey  as a way to minimize allergic reactions to local pollen.

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Then, onto the celebrities of the farm, the Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs , who appeared to be quite content in their muddy pen.

On our last stop on the farm, we gazed over a herd of Heritage Breed Highland and Ancient White Park cattle grazing on sweet grass.

Thanks to Brian Lichorowic and the staff at Ayshire for a gracious, enriching, and enlightening day on the farm.

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Endless Summer Harvest

2013-04-27_10-35-27_71 Endless Summer Harvest Farm Students at Farm Wine TastingAs told by Voula Bourzikos, Culinary Arts Teaching Assistant

Culinary students went on a field trip this week to Endless Summer Harvest and met the farm’s President and General Manager, Mary Ellen Taylor. She is amazing! Everyone in Loudon county knows her as a warm and vibrant person with lots of energy and personality. You can tell just by talking to her how much she loves her job and how much she really enjoys working with local chefs. She told us that ten years ago, most of the profits made by the farm were through farmers markets, however now the bulk of the farm’s revenue comes through working/growing lettuce and herbs for well-known DC-area chefs. As we toured the green houses, she let the students sample all different kinds of lettuce and herbs and even gave us some to take home with us, which we ate in our sandwiches for lunch at the vineyard.

Endless Summer Harvest grows hydroponically in a high tech controlled agricultural environment in Northern Virginia, specifically, Purcellville. The farm’s expertise is in providing delicious, locally grown, pesticide free produce, 365 days a year, for sale at farmers’ markets, up-scale restaurants and specialty stores.

Although, it was hard to top Endless, we then went to North Gate Vineyard high quality wine grapes in Loundon County with a focus on Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, and Bordeaux Reds. There we met owner Vicky Fedor, who gave us a tour of the facility and talked about the wine making process. Chef Jake asked Vicki how long it took to age the wine in barrels and the students said “Until it’s done!” Which of course made everyone laugh b/c this is always Chef’s response to them when asked “How long does it take to cook, Chef.”

We sat outside, ate lunch and enjoyed some wine. My favorite part of the field was when I asked the students about externships and Nicole said these wise words: “Picking your school and instructor is as important as your first chef/restaurant.”

Tailoring our Cooks for Success

The Culinary Institute of America made national news this past Tuesday when about one fifth of the student body staged a walk out from classes, protesting what they called “a weakening enforcement of educational standards.”  According to the New York Times, an organizer of the walk out stated that the “core mission” of their protest was to “protect the reputation of the institution and the value of the diploma.” One of the primary grievances of the current protest is a failure to enforce dress codes in the classroom.  Protesters also expressed concern about whether the school is producing the skilled, disciplined chefs of tomorrow, or alumni who are little more than telegenic lightweights, calling their school a chef factory more than a culinary school.

At LAC, students and faculty wear a full cook’s uniform in class in both the kitchen and in lecture.  During the first few weeks of the professional program each student is graded every day  on the presentation of their uniform as well as their personal hygene and grooming. Shave last night instead of this morning, one point off.  Hair more than an inch out of the cap, one point off.  Colored tee shirt showing through the white uniform, one point off.  Missing a neckerchief or a hat or an apron, 5 points off.  Pants not hemmed?  5 points off.  It doesn’t take long for the sting of a poor uniform grade to modify a Phase 1 student’s approach to dressing and grooming.

After all, we teach our students to present themselves as the type of cook you want to watch handling the food you are going to eat.  We inculcate an sense of hygene, sanitation, and crisp presentation among our students.   As long as a student wears a LAC jacket they project our brand as well as theirs, and they learn to be stewards of both.

Well, speaking as a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine (LAC), and as a Chef Instructor in the Professional Program at LAC, I can state that we ratchet up the enforcement of educational standards with every session we teach.  While our syllabus hews closely to the classic drills of foundation skills and knowledge, with each new start, we refine the complexity, relevance, and effectiveness of our program.  We update our curriculum based on direct feedback from the chefs who hire our students.  And our students do get hired.  If a cooking school is ranked on the hire-ability of our students and graduates, LAC comes out on top.  Lightweights and under-acheivers wither in the glare of our small class size and constant drilling.

While great cooks prepare great food, great chefs prepare great cooks at LAC

The New York Times article can be read here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/dining/student-chefs-protest-at-culinary-institute-of-america.html?_r=0

Interview with Pastry Students

055Students in the Evening Pastry Arts Program reflect on how far they’ve come in 9 months.
Below are excerpts from LAC’s interviews with students Diane, Meghan, Rocio and Ally.

1. Why choose LAC’s evening Pastry Arts Program.

Diane: I currently have a full-time job in the federal government. I needed to keep my job while I was pursuing my education in the Pastry Arts, until I was ready to fully transition to a new career 9 months after starting. I also really enjoy the small class sizes and the high quality ingredients used every day which really makes a difference in the final products.

Meghan: LAC is close to where I live and I really liked the night class option because I work during the day. Also, when I visited LAC the staff really welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t feel like a prospective student at all.

Rocio: I looked at other pastry schools in the area, but felt that the small class sizes and classic curriculum at LAC were the right fit for me.

2. How have you balanced work and school?Hors d'Oeuvres Buffet 002

Diane: Balancing full-time work in the federal government with my commitment to pastry school, has forced me to organize myself better and manage my time more efficiently on a daily basis. You just need to be focused on what you want, what you need to accomplish, and get to it. You will then look back and be amazed at how much you can balance! There are days when I am really tired after a full day of work, but my excitement and passion for baking and pastry keeps me going!

Meghan: Currently I have a full-time job as a server during the day and have also started my externship a little early at Praline Bakery & Restaurant in Bethesda, MD. Balancing work and school has been a challenge at times, however, I have a set schedule at my day job and have worked out with my boss that I have two days off during the week, and a few hours between getting off my shift and getting to school. Life is a little hectic, but I’m doing what I love and enjoying every minute of it!

Rocio: I am currently a middle school teacher and have to admit that balancing work and pastry school has been more challenging than I imagined. Before beginning the program I thought 20 hours a week of school was not much [but it’s incredible how much gets packed in!] Also I commute from Northern Virginia which takes an extra hour out of my day. I’ve done my best to stay organized and the thing that has really gotten me through this is my excitement and passion for pastry and baking!!

 113 (1)3. How have your pastry skills/knowledge expanded since attending LAC’s Pastry Arts Program?

Diane: Oh my goodness, where to begin. I came into the first day of class with a basic knowledge of pastry that I had gained through watching and helping my grandmother and mother while growing up. I was not extremely skilled in anything in particular. However, I felt like I knew a bit. When we went over the syllabus on day one of class, I realized how I didn’t even recognize many of the names of items and concepts we would be covering. I had no idea with Pastillage and Brisee were, let alone how to properly roll dough for Croissants and other delicious pastries! I thought to myself, will I be able to do this? The answer to that question is simple, Absolutely!! Now that I look back on the last 9 months I am absolutely amazed at how far I have come and how the skills and knowledge I have now will last a lifetime!
Meghan: Coming into the program, I had dabbled in making a few cakes here and there, using fondant a little, but other than that, I was pretty much in the dark. The fundamental skills I’ve learned in school have become part of my everyday life now. I have a strong foundation with which I can understand why a recipe doesn’t turn out right, or how I can fix something when it goes wrong. With the strong skill set I have now, I can also begin building my own recipes.

Rocio: I’ve learned correctly how to do things I never realized I didn’t know… How to make a meringue properly, how to build a celebration cake properly and all about croissants and laminated doughs! Even in these last few week of school I’m still learning how to be better every day.

4. Now that you’re headed out to your externship, how do you feel about transitioning to a new career?

Diane: I am also very excited about my upcoming externship. I’ll be at Sweet Hearts Patisserie in Annapolis. Sweet Hearts is a beautiful patisserie that offers a wide variety of delicious treats. I am looking forward to learning directly from the owner, Chef Kristen and her skilled staff.

Meghan: Putting all my new skills to the test and taking pride in all I’ve accomplished is an incredible feeling! I’m a little sad about leaving the school and moving on to my externship, mainly because school has become a second home over the past nine months. I am very excited about my externship though. Going out into the world and putting all my skills to the test as well as expanding on them and learning new things every day is really exciting!

Ally: I’m getting ready to move outside the area up to Buffalo, NY. I’m looking forward to beginning my externship in DessertDeli, where I can put my skills to the test in a real-world environment.

0565. What advice do you have for someone considering attending the LAC Pastry Arts Program?

Meghan: Work hard, be patient with yourself as you are learning, and keep yourself organized!! Have pride in all that you do, and make Chef Claude proud! But most of all, ENJOY it and HAVE FUN! I enjoy a challenge and this program is enough of a challenge to keep me on my toes, as well as make it enjoyable along the way!

Rocio: I recommend prospective students come visit the school during a special event or to observe a class. This way they can really see the pastry students in action and get an honest look at the program.

Diane: Don’t hold back on your passion! I would also advise prospective students to visit the school. Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by the depth of skills that are represented when you visit. On Day One of class, I didn’t know how to do 90% of what I can now do. But you really will learn it, understand it, and feel so proud of all that you accomplished by the end of the program.

Externship Plus One: What a Year! Part II

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Looking back at my work this past year both at VOLT and Family Meal - I would be remiss not mention the people who have made my year so fulfilling. I may plate a dessert, or send out a side, but my ability to do so is dependent upon the many people around me that all play a part in making our kitchen work.

Working in a professional kitchen is all about teamwork. Every station depends on the support of other cooks on other stations, support of sous chefs, and on some days anyone who can lend a hand in a given moment. My externship started very much like Phase I at LAC: lots of focus on individual work, honing my basic skills and simply learning my way around  before I could even begin to help others.  To start out on my externship, I supported most of the cooks around me: gathered ingredients, did prep and did a lot of watching and learning. When I was ready, I took on wheat seemed like a huge responsibility at the time: managing my own station, but quickly realizing I couldn’t do it without the support of those around me.  Much like the teamworking concepts stressed in Phase 2, I realized my teammates and I had to work together if we were ever going to be ready for service.

During my externship I often found that neither my newfound speed nor my budding efficiency was enough, and into the breach stepped other chefs. When it comes down to the wire, everyone is willing to pitch in to ensure a successful service. But that support from your colleagues comes easier once you have proven yourself as a hard worker. Likewise on days when your own tasks are done, stepping up to help others builds that circle of support and camaraderie which strikes me as the key to a successful kitchen.

The support of people beyond the kitchen has also been critical to this first year’s successes. Transitioning from a  traditional weekday work schedule into the professional kitchen required sacrifices from family and friends. The certainty of sitting down to dinner every night with Sean was replaced by grabbing a bite together when I got lucky enough to have a night off. Family traditions and holidays reequired adjusting and maneuvering, changing locales, and sometines changing days. My weekends were no longer the traditional Saturday Sunday, but what seemd at frirst to be a random Monday or Thursday I learned quickly to savor, whether or not it lined up with friends or holidays.  Classmates from LAC I saw every day, now depend on late-night/early morning texts or phone calls and a fortuitous alignment of days off to catch-up, commiserate, and support one another.

The first year has definitely brought home the fact that being part of a professional kitchen takes the support of everyone around me, both inside the kitchen and out. I do not take lightly that support than enables me to have moments like the one pictured here with a young guest at Family Meal who was very happy to make his own dessert one evening at the restaurant. Bringing happy memories through food is why we build teams in the kitchen, and make sacrifices outside it.

Externship Plus One: What A Year!

307by Michael Gray

Milestones are useful for retrospection. As I approach my one-year anniversary of the start of my LAC externship, reflection has become a major pastime. I hope you join me in the next few weeks as I share some of them. To summarize the reflections, I have to say simply: What A Year!

A year ago I was full of excitement, fear, anticipation, trepidation and hope as I walked in the doors at VOLT.  Thinking back on my first night trying to create canapés that had one component apiece and how difficult and overwhelming it seemed I have to laugh a little. We were told that improving speed is the primary purpose of the externship – looking back I can see the improvements clearly, even if I could not as I was going through it. From single components I advanced to canapés comprising 6-7 components with advanced techniques such as agar pudding and liquid nitrogen dippin’ dots; plus taking on the lobster rolls and oysters on the half shell for the bar. More was constantly asked and all of it helped build speed.

Then came Family Meal and a volume of customers that VOLT did not approach on its busiest days even on a very slow day for Family Meal. Speed had to improve again or down in flames I would go. But in addition to building speed, I also started thinking in terms of planning the mise en place for the station on a multi-day strategic approach. Building the volume where possible to be able to focus on service rather than production when in service proved another useful building block.

032The next evolution came when I started to seek out production items to work on during service. Something once unthinkable transformed into an almost compulsive need to be producing at all times. On those rare days where production maxed-out, I branched out to other tasks such as expo or assisting other stations. This first year has been an evolution from survival to becoming a productive member of the kitchen….just what they told us at the externship panel the first year should be when we started down this path.

(Pictures:  Top left: me and my former Teaching Assistant Allyson Lara; bottom right, Chef Bryan’s book, definitely a must-have for anyone into food.)

Culinary Grad, Emily Hagel writes about using her culinary education to end homelessness in DC…Wait, what?!

miriam's kitchenI’ve always believed people, places, and palates are uniting forces. A background in international relations and nearly a decade of study and professional ventures in the global arena, my first career was benchmarked by names, numbers, nominations, and frankly, what I ate for lunch. Authentic Andalucían tapas, spice markets in Istanbul, family-owned restaurants in Guatemala, Afghan kebabs in Kabul, my academic and professional travels resonated not for their scholarly or business outcomes—but for the trials and tribulations in pursuit of taste. Then it dawned on me: Food feeds people – minds, bodies, souls – I want to feed people. I want to go to culinary school and make a career of feeding people. In the back of my mind, feeding people who did not have the means to purchase a meal was my ultimate goal. But first you have to feed people that will pay A LOT of money for food. You need to know how to “make it nice”. How to work fast, work clean, work hard, work long.

I built an incredible foundation of culinary skills at LAC that paved the way for me to work in a variety of other food-related business.  I worked on a food truck, at two restaurants, then was offered a tremendous opportunity to work for a start-up company in a glorified adult community center which housed, among other things, a 44-seat demonstration kitchen and state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. Building out culinary concepts – from gluten-free baking and pig butchering classes, to pop up restaurants, guest chef lectures, book talks, and demos – my food knowledge was a tremendous asset both behind the line and in the office.

But I missed the food. I missed the physical challenge of working in a kitchen. I missed the creativity that goes with cooking. And I missed doing good. So in January 2013 I joined the kitchen team at Miriam’s Kitchen as the Assistant Director of Kitchen Operations. At Miriam’s we provide nutritious meals and professional support services to more than 300 homeless men and women each day, which comes to more than 4,000 people annually. All of our food is made with fresh ingredients including whole grains, proteins, and local and organic fruit and vegetables donated from farmers, grocery retailers, hunters, and food vendors. I am part of a 4-person team that directs 15-20 volunteers per meal – providing our volunteers with culinary direction and an overall plan of attack to prep, serve, and break down breakfast and dinner services much like you would in a high-end restaurant. To someone in need, food is transformative; a good meal makes a prince of a pauper. You touch someone’s food, you touch their life.

Every week is like a “market basket” since we rely heavily on donated product. Because of that, our menus are local and seasonal. The skills I acquired at culinary school were crucial to a career in such a reactionary food field. The choice to pursue the culinary arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The school gave me the opportunity to make industry connections I’ll keep forever, the breadth of skills and knowledge I am able to use in ventures both inside and outside of a traditional kitchen!

Pastry Grad, Meg Murray talks Thunder Pig & ThinkLocal First

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Buy tickets now to Thunder Pig’s Pop Up Dessert-ery Live at Hello Cupcake in Capitol Hill, every Monday night in April.

“As the daughter of two life-long entrepreneurs, I’ve always known that I wanted to own my own business.  I started Thunder Pig Confectionery in the hope of bringing delicious, organic sweets and baked goods to the DC area.  When I found out about Think Local First DC’s Start Up Kitchen Competition, I started working on a business plan immediately.  This was a challenge since I’ve never sweets3done anything like that before.  I had to develop products, understand my pricing, and create a long-term vision for a business that I had just started the month before.  I had lots of long conversations with my parents and friends, bouncing ideas off of them and, of course, making them official taste tasters.  I knew that even if I didn’t win the competition, it would be an amazing opportunity to get my brand noticed and make valuable industry connections.

Now that I’ve won, I’ve been so lucky to have the guidance andsupport of LAC, as well as so many industry experts; helping me evolve in my career. n Mondays at Hello Cupcake in Capitol Hill starting the first week in April. I’m incredibly excited about all the amazing things happening for Thunder Pig.”

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