As a food service sergeant in the U.S. army, Chef Michael Allen knows a thing or two about culinary
education. Over the years, he has taught many Army service men the basics of the culinary arts all wrapped up into a ten day workshop. It’s no easy feat, but it’s one that has allowed Chef Michael to be challenged, push himself and constantly be searching for ways to improve his skills and feed his passion for the culinary arts. When it came time for him to pursue a more formal education, the time commitment required by a traditional culinary school wasn’t an option for his busy life and demanding career. So, when he happened upon an Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts booth at Skills USA event this past year, he was delighted to learn that the school was offering an accredited online culinary arts certificate program that would work perfectly with his schedule.
Chef Michael took the time to talk with us about his career, what he loves most about teaching the culinary arts and what he hopes to do when he’s finished his education.
AESCA: You’ve been cooking professionally for 15 years. What made you choose a culinary education at this step in your career?
MA: I was accepted at a culinary institute earlier, but I was unable to afford to go. I joined the Army in hopes to utilize my G.I. Bill to help offset the cost of education. I was exposed to and began to benefit from a lot of leadership and culinary training in the Army, so I kept re-enlisting. I chose to attend Escoffier at this stage in my career as a way to keep me relevant in the industry and up to date with certification. I go to any length to be the best in my career that I may be.
AESCA: Why did you choose Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts Boulder’s online certificate program?
MA: I am currently in the military; the selection process for higher ranks is partly based on education. I was disinterested with college. I would do a semester hour here and there, but nothing that really added up. I did a recruiting opportunity with Army Foodservice at a Skills USA event this year and spent a little time talking with the culinary stations. Through more investigation I decided to try the online certificate program out.
AESCA: How do you feel online culinary education can help others like you on their career path?
MA: As an active duty soldier, online school is a big way to stay consistent with education. There is a big need for culinary arts training in my career, but there is not a lot of time to accomplish this. It’s doable, I’m doing it right now, but it’s not always convenient.
AESCA: What do you hope to do with your schooling?
MA: Ultimately, I plan to share it with others. My schooling is just a stage in my life. There will be plenty more schooling in the future, and there will be other experiences along the way. My ultimate goal is to teach others what I have spent my life learning; to do this I must spend my whole life learning.
AESCA: Tell me a little about your first job in the culinary arts and what you learned from it.
MA:I was a bus boy at a Jacksonville, IL country club. I remember my first day on the job pretty vividly. It was a wedding party and I handed out Hors d’oeuvres on shiny metal trays. We served course after course of amazing food to the guests. The cooks in the back were all engaged in various tasks and pumping out works of culinary art as fast as they could, and it was my job to make sure it made it to the table without hitting the floor. I got tired of being wait staff and wanted to be among the culinarians, so I began my own journey.
AESCA: As someone who has worked professionally in the field for a number of years, what advice do you have for those just starting out?
MA: Take care of things like they belong to you; they just might one day. Never turn down an opportunity; you don’t know where that opened door could lead. And never stop learning; the moment you think you know something you just handicapped your abilities.
AESCA: What do you think the 3 most important traits a chef needs to be successful?
MA: Teamwork, passion and attention to detail.
AESCA: You currently teach the culinary arts for the U.S. Army. Tell me a little about what that’s like.
MA: It’s a big life lesson on mise en place. I must have my things in order if I am to be successful. Our class is more like exposure to culinary fundamentals than an actual lesson in culinary arts. We have ten days to teach meat identification/fabrication, classical cuts, stocks, sauces, breakfast cookery, starches/grains, vegetables, plate design, desserts/pastry, table service/etiquette, hors d’ oeuvres/appetizers, sanitation, nutrition, then we end it all with a four course luncheon. We move pretty quickly. I don’t teach everyone everything, but I expose them to as much as possible so when they see a dover sole one day they might remember it’s a lean flat fish and that the best cooking method might be moist heat as to poach in a bit fish fumet.
AESCA: What do you like most about teaching the culinary arts?
MA: I learn a lot when I teach. The biggest lesson I learn is that we are human and it is ok to make mistakes; as long as we learn from them. I also learn that there will always be more than one way to do something. Not all of them work, but when I consider everything and keep what works as well as learn from other peoples mistakes, then I have more knowledge to share down the road.
AESCA: What are you hoping to do after you finish the certificate program?
MA: After finishing the Certificate Program then I’m off to my next life lesson. I am open to anything that I may learn along the way. On my short term to do list is either to certify as a CCC with the ACF or certify as PC I with CIA. There are no long term goals set in stone, but I would like to do a number of things in my life time. I do plan on opening up a coffee shop when I retire from the military. I’ll wait to see where that takes off. A lot of what I will do all depends on the opportunities that are opened up to me. Not everyone gets to do everything, but I’m sure I’ll be well prepared before I get where opportunity takes me.