By: Alex Charpentier, Culinary Arts Student
A glimpse inside a commencement ceremony at the Austin Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
Next month I begin a new chapter of my life as a student in the Culinary Arts Program at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in hip Austin, Texas. During the ten month program, Chef Instructors will take me and my classmates through a series of six week cooking and baking courses, culminating with an industry externship where we will gain relevant experience by working in a local Austin food establishment. Our culinary school experience will be different for each of us and we will each seek a different path upon completion of the program.
I enter the culinary arts program with the intention of putting my years of corporate marketing and communications experience as well as my Master’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management to work in the culinary industry and thus realign my career with my passion for food. Others may be just starting out in their careers and have aspirations of working their way up to an Executive Chef position in a popular restaurant, of starting a catering company or a food truck, of writing a cookbook or even of opening their own restaurant. Regardless of the plan, what is certain is that we have all made the commitment to ourselves to follow the path to a future in the culinary or pastry arts.
In preparation for my new life experience, I was invited by the Director of the Austin Escoffier campus, Marcus McMellon, to attend a commencement ceremony for the most recent culinary and pastry arts graduates to experience first-hand what completing the program meant. Commencement is a French word that means “beginning” or “start” so while graduation marks the end of the culinary arts program; it is really the first step in the start of many culinary careers and the launching pad for the future for all of the graduates.
As I sat quietly in the ballroom of an upscale Austin hotel, I watched the culinary and pastry students and their chef instructors proudly enter the room while their families and loved ones cheered them on, many with tears of pride and joy in their eyes. I listened to Director McMellon congratulate them all on some of the highlights of their experience: their class included the first hearing impaired student. They received a visit from Michel Escoffier, a distinguished member of the school’s advisory board and the great-grandson of Master Chef Auguste Escoffier and the President of the Escoffier Museum and Foundation in Villanueve-Loubet, France. They won the Farm to Chef Austin student culinary competition sponsored by the Sustainable Food Center in Austin and the Texas Chef’s Association Austin Chapter, beating out all the other culinary schools in Austin. In listening, I became more and more confident about the decision that I had made to enroll in the program.
Director McMellon and a series of other speakers took the stage, each providing their own reflections upon the past year and the future to come. One of those speakers was Bob Saiz, President of the Auguste Escoffier School’s parent company and a restaurant industry veteran himself. His advice was simple and straightforward. He told the students to have a plan, to write it down and to work their plan. “After all” he said “a bad plan is better than no plan at all.” He also reminded them that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do with it.” Good advice for people entering the exciting but demanding and, at times, unpredictable culinary world.
Following Mr. Saiz, two student speakers took the stage, one a culinary arts graduate and one a pastry arts graduate. They spoke of their passion for food, their dedication to the restaurant industry and their hard work and tenacity in realizing their culinary dreams. I learned about the opportunities available as a student at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts to become a student ambassador by accumulating volunteer hours in the Austin community and was inspired by many of the graduates who had received this distinction. Finally, Chef Sebastien Caillabet, owner of Celtic Seafare, spoke to the students about the importance of professionalism in the restaurant industry and how to succeed.
“Maintaining a high level of professionalism in everything you do is of the utmost importance if you want to be successful in this industry. If you do what you say you are going to do, if you follow through and if you put your best foot forward with each and every interaction you will succeed” said Caillabet. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, be confident in your skills and never stop learning” he added.
I sat back as the graduates received their diplomas and donned their Toque Blanches for the first time and I listened as the room erupted in shouts and cheers and I smiled to myself; I had just witnessed the start of something great.
Meet Alex Charpentier:
A foodie, culinary storyteller and experiential marketer, Alex Charpentier passionately writes and studies the why behind innovators, brands and consumers in the culinary and hospitality segments. She has a BS in French Literature and Art History from UCLA and a Masters in Management from Cornell University’s Hotel & Restaurant School. Alex recently left her corporate marketing job to attend the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and follow her passion for all things culinary and to live and write about her transition from at-home cook to trained Chef!