February 13, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan Taylor


Jonathan Taylor, Culinary Arts March 2013

Recent Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduate Jonathan Taylor (Culinary Arts March 2013) has already accumulated enviable culinary tales – from meeting the legendary Thomas Keller to working the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. It is Taylor’s love of the culinary world and furthering his education that spurs him to work hard every day. These days he can be found in the kitchen of Sheraton Denver’s 15|Fifty Restaurant. Students, take note, as he is also a newest addition to Escoffier’s tutoring team. Here he tells us how he built his résumé, landed a coveted externship in Napa Valley and about the perks of working for a hotel.

Escoffier: How did you end up at your job at 15|Fifty Restaurant in the Sheraton Denver? Were you seeking a job in a hotel?
Taylor: I was looking for a lot of different factors. I wanted to work with people who were committed to a certain level of quality and Starwood was that hotel. I plan to stay at this job for [a while] and wanted an environment where I could continue learning without having to look for a new job. There are so many different aspects to hotel food service that if I feel like I’ve reached my learning potential in one area of the hotel, I can check out something else. It’s not just working on a line and learning one menu; there is the line for the full restaurant and room service, a full kitchen for hot banquet and garde manger, as well as a bakery. I also really wanted a place that offered benefits and also a place where people love to work. Employee retention was big; people want to work at Starwood Hotels and stick around for 15-20 years.

Escoffier: Do you see yourself staying with Starwood for that type of timeframe?
Taylor: I want to be there for at least two and a half years, until I move out of state. The ability to transfer to different Starwood locations was one of the things that went into this decision. Knowing that they are a big, global corporation is comforting. I should have a job anywhere we go. But after that I really see myself getting back into restaurant kitchens, applying for shift-lead, lead line, or a sous chef position. In 2013 I got some pretty extraordinary experiences on my résumé. And then to back that up with Starwood experience, that will help me reach my midterm goals (sous chef).

Escoffier: Can you tell us about those résumé-making experiences?
Taylor: Well, finishing up culinary school with honors – that was awesome! I got to meet Thomas Keller, Morimoto, and Michael Chiarello out in Napa Valley where I externed at Hurley’s Restaurant, a Michelin recommended restaurant. I can’t even express how much I value that [extern] experience. It never would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Escoffier or if Chef Mark hadn’t helped me pull everything together. I also got to go to Aspen Food and Wine Classic 2013 (through Escoffier) and staged at Rioja (winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Southwest 2013).

Escoffier: What a year! I’d love to hear more about your externship at Hurley’s in Napa Valley, including how you were selected.
Taylor: Chef Hurley sent an email to the school saying he wanted to take a look at students from Escoffier (a first). As soon as I heard that I jumped on the phone, sent an email, and knocked his door down to jump on that opportunity. After a few emails and a phone interview, he offered me the externship. It was unpaid, but he paid for housing. It was tough, but doable. I learned a lot and he was a fantastic chef to do an externship with. He took a really active role to make sure I was learning. Chef Hurley brought me along to offsite events, would explain what he was doing in the kitchen, and introduced me to other chefs – including Thomas Keller, Morimoto, and Michael Chiarello – and wineries. He made sure I was networking, talking to people, seeing different cuisines and cooking styles. He would call ahead to wineries and say “Jon Taylor is going to stop by, treat him to something special.” When he set me up with housing he deliberately set me up with a roommate who was an intern at a winery, so that I could learn about wine. [The externship] wasn’t just food – it was also wine and culture, pairing, and charities. It was a truly remarkable experience.

Escoffier: What an honor to be there…
Taylor: My stage at Rioja and the week at Aspen Food and Wine, all of those little things added up to me being in a place where Chef Hurley could look at my résumé and say this is a student I want in my restaurant. Those little things that took half of a Saturday here and there, when you add them all together, turn out to be a pretty big selling point. Those little extras say “I take my education seriously” and that I am furthering my education outside of the classroom.

Escoffier: That is great advice to take advantage of the extra, outside of class opportunities. Do you have any other advice to share with current students?
Taylor: Love that education you are getting because it is incredible! I loved it and I look back and wish I could do it all again. Take advantage to all of the resources that are available: Chef Mark in Career Services, the tutoring program, all of the Chef Instructors who have so much to share. You don’t have to follow the same path as me, but furthering your education could mean the cooking competitions, helping out with orientations, or researching different chefs online. It can be as little as saying, “Tonight I’m going to cook something I’ve never done before.”

Escoffier: You mentioned the tutoring program, where you are a tutor. Can you tell us a bit about what a tutoring session might look like?
Taylor: It varies with each student. Different students have different strengths and weaknesses; some might have trouble with the textbook, others may have trouble with the practical side of things. I try to help them overcome their challenges and focus on where they need improvement. Right now two out of three of my students are requesting practical tutoring, which will most likely take place on the weekends in uniform.

Escoffier: Do you feel like your classroom time helped prepare you for the real world?
Taylor: Definitely. They really walked me through how to prepare for an interview: how to look at a recipe and break it down into mise en place. It’s a skill that doesn’t just apply to interviews; it’s why I can go into the Sheraton and feel prepared. It’s like taking a mental deep breath. I apply that skill to other areas of life too, like my budget. The skills I learned at Escoffier are not only applicable in the kitchen, but throughout my life in unexpected areas. They didn’t just help me to get the job, but they allow me to hold a job, allow me to be an asset to the organization I associate with – whether it is Hurley’s in Napa, Aspen Food and Wine, or Starwood Hotels.