March 11, 2014

Greg Johnson, Admissions Representative

We often see Admissions Representative Greg Johnson taking prospective students on campus tours, smiling and greeting every chef by name. That affection was cultivated during his time as a student. As a Culinary Arts (May 2011) graduate himself, Johnson is well equipped to mentor students through the decision-making process of becoming an Escoffier student. Having a culinary degree wasn’t the only surprise on Johnson’s résumé. He has police academy training, military experience, and was a high school teacher for seven years with an expertise in Middle Eastern politics. Here he tells us how he began his culinary career, what sets Escoffier apart, and how he knows if a student will be successful.

Escoffier: You have a really interesting work history (military, high school teacher, police academy); how did you end up pursuing a culinary career?
Johnson: To get to know my wife’s (then girlfriend) family meant me spending time in the kitchen. They cook a lot of high-end, high-technique meals at home. I started to get into it. I was teaching (high school) and we got to do something called elective week. I taught a cooking class. I got to use those teaching skills, but with food. My sister-in-law kept harassing me about The Next Food Network Star show, so I tried out and kept getting called back. I didn’t end up making it on the show and the reason I didn’t get on the show was because I didn’t go to school. My wife said you should try this whole (culinary) thing out. So I packed up the whole family and [went to Escoffier]. We didn’t know what the future held, but it was worth a shot.

Escoffier: Tell us how you came to your role in Admissions.
Johnson: When I left school I started my own private chef business: catering, community building cooking events, thematic cooking classes, and wine tastings. I was doing that full-time while also tutoring for the school. And then one conversation led to another…I love the school a lot and wanted to continue working with the school. My in-laws say I am a renaissance man; I do a little bit of everything.

Escoffier: Do you still do cooking these days?
Johnson: I actually work with one of the Escoffier grads. We pick up events here and there. I have regular clients who just call up. My chef name is Chef Johnny G. John is my official first name but I didn’t want to go by John Johnson…my parents weren’t thinking (smiling).

Escoffier: What separates Escoffier from other culinary schools?
Johnson: There are definitely a few different pieces. First, the reputation is exceptional. It is a really hands-on program. We attract students who don’t want to sit and do book-talk, but who want to get in there and really do it. Students always say, “You guys care, you talk to us.” The personal touch makes people feel comfortable that they can follow a path they are passionate about. The length is nice. In less than a calendar year you are going to be done starting this new thing. That is pretty awesome.

Escoffier: How can you tell that a student will be successful and that he or she is the “right fit” for Escoffier?
Johnson: You get a sense of people. You get a sense of what they really care about and what they don’t. When you meet someone and he or she really cares, it sets him or her apart. The passion piece is huge. Knowing that they are going to represent themselves and the school well is knowing that they are going to come in and give 100 percent. It is also important that they understand and can verbalize that it will be hard work, but it is something that they are passionate about enough to give that effort.

Escoffier: What is the best part about your job?
Johnson: Just talking to people about cooking and food, hearing about where they’ve come from and what got them interested in doing this. I had a gentleman who was a doctor who wanted to bake bread. When you talk to people who are really excited about food, that is pretty awesome. You get to share things with people that are intimate; [this passion for food] is an intimate part of their character.

Escoffier: We often see you taking prospective students on a tour of the classroom. Can you tell us about that experience?
Johnson: I think when you tour the kitchens and see classes taking place, it makes everything you talked about in the admissions interview real. It lets people see themselves in that environment – positive or negative – it makes it real. Escoffier students are really happy to be in class and that projects to the potential students even if they don’t even talk to anyone.

Escoffier: Any tips you give to new students?
Johnson: You’re going to be nervous. There are going to be days when you’re like, “Oh, my gosh.” I try to be here as much as I can. I want them to feel comfortable and confident in their abilities. It is going to be so much fun, you’re going to have such a good time.