Chef Instructor John Hummel never thought he would be a chef. In fact, he was waiting to become old enough to take the police test when he picked up a job in the kitchen of a restaurant. But his love for the culinary arts was fierce and fast and he soon found himself with an entirely new passion in life. Fast forward some years and he’s worked in kitchens all over the country, served presidents and astronauts, owned a catering business and become an all around lover of everything bacon. Now, on the next and favorite part of his journey, Chef John Hummel is among the esteemed chef instructors to grace the kitchens of Auguste Escoffier School of the Culinary Art’s Austin Campus.
We sat down with Chef John as he shared with us some of his biggest triumphs, his ultimate culinary disaster and what his favorite part of being a chef instructor is.
AESCA: What is your background in the culinary arts?
John Hummel: I have been in the industry for over forty years and an executive chef for thirty-five years. I have worked in hotels, country clubs, city clubs, restaurants, health care and senior living. I have owned a catering company and had a competition barbeque team.
I was trained in my early years by several European chefs and had my first executive chef position at the age of 23, opening a refurbished downtown land-mark hotel in Kansas City, MO.
AESCA: What made you want to get into the culinary arts?
JH: I didn’t! My associate of arts college degree is in Administration of Justice. I wanted to follow one of my high school buddies into the police academy. When I finished my degree I wasn’t old enough to go into the police academy so I got a job cooking under a Spanish chef in a small bistro… I was hooked!
AESCA: What has been your favorite job so far?
JH: I have cooked for Presidents and Astronauts, catered meals for sports stars and rock bands, been on TV and radio, opened hotels and restaurants… Without question my time at Escoffier has been, and still is, the best thing I have done in my career.
AESCA: What do you love most about being a teacher at Escoffier?
JH: The sponges, the students who want to learn every thing they can. They come to school early and leave late. They question and analyze, they research and come prepared. I also love how teaching has stretched me in my culinary knowledge.
AESCA: What is the one ingredient you must have in your kitchen at all times?
JH: Bacon… The gateway meat!
AESCA: What advice do you have for students?
JH: Be a sponge and come to class! Our curriculum is a drink from a fire-hose. If you miss a day you are behind.
AESCA: What has been your best dish triumph?
JH: I was the executive chef at the Bay View Plaza in Santa Monica, CA. Orion Pictures had rented out our ballroom to preview their upcoming movies for the studio’s investors. They were in the hotel for an entire week. To say they were difficult would be an understatement. On Saturday night the president and the investors had a private dinner, the Orion president met with me to explain the importance of the dinner.
Five courses paired with wines. At the end of the dinner the president walked into the kitchen, put out his hand to shake mine and when he did I felt something in my hand. After a brief conversation of him telling me how wonderful everything was he left the kitchen, I opened my had and found a 500 dollar bill… I guess that was a triumph!
AESCA: How about your biggest dish disaster?
JH: I had a brunch banquet for 400 people, I put two steamship rounds in the oven to cook all night and informed the hotel night auditor not to mess with the ovens. The message didn’t get to the security guard who, while making his rounds, found the ovens on and turned them off!
(I guess he had never smelled roasting beef??)
The brunch got roasted turkey breast!
AESCA: What is your ultimate comfort food?
JH: Brick oven pizza topped with spicy Italian sausage, sweet purple onions, Kalamata olives and provel cheese. With the edges slightly burnt and a cold IPA!
AESCA: What can you tell students to expect going into culinary school?
JH: To be bombarded with information, unfamiliar vernacular, fast-paced craziness and a faculty that loves you and wants nothing more for you than to be a rock star in the culinary world!
AESCA: In your opinion, what is your recipe for being a successful chef?
JH: I am often asked what is the difference between a cook and a chef. Many things first come to mind. Creativity, imagination, managerial skills, people skills, broad culinary knowledge… But can’t a cook possess all these skills? The difference between and cook and a chef is math, yes math. You can be the best cook in the world but if your budget numbers aren’t met month-to-month you close your restaurant or lose your job!
AESCA: What advice do you have for those who have been thinking about attending culinary school?
JH: Count the cost. Not just monetarily but motivationally. What is your motive for spending the money on culinary school? Do you want to be a celebrity chef, a personal chef, a restaurant owner, a food blogger, etc… Go into the investment with some sense of what you want from your education. As the saying goes, if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time!
AESCA: What does Auguste Escoffier school of culinary arts offer students that other schools may not?
JH: Smaller class sizes with more hands on time in the kitchen. We have world-class instructors with vast knowledge and experience. And our wonderful Farm To Table Experience, where students get to spend time with local farmers to see what it takes to produce quality produce, dairy, pork, beef and chicken. To build relationships with local farmers that will benefit them when they get into the industry and to understand the importance of those relationships. We do nose to tail cooking, helping students to understand where their food comes from and to respect the animals we use for food.