When Kenneth Allen Jr. took a leap of faith and decided to give up a 21 year career in the military to pursue his dream career in the culinary arts, we can certainly say it took some serious gumption. Having spent most of his life trying to involve himself in the field through worldwide culinary competitions and cooking for his family and friends as often as physically possible, he was more than ready to begin this journey. He knew with the proper schooling and mastering of traditional techniques and skills, he would be able to start doing what he always wanted to. That’s when he found the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Art’s Austin campus. By Kenneth combining everything he’s learned from his culinary education with the two main ingredients that matter most for any chef—love and passion—he will be ready to begin the career he always wanted. With a specialty in barbecue and fire in his heart, we can’t wait to see what he cooks up!
Kenneth took the time out of his busy school schedule to talk about when he first knew he wanted to be a chef, what his favorite barbecue is and what he looks forward to most after graduating from culinary school.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: You’re switching careers after 21 years in HR and risk management in the military. Tell me about the moment you realized you wanted to be a chef?
Kenneth Allen Jr: I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was 15 years old. We were eating at a restaurant when the chef came out to our table to see how we were enjoying the meal and then he took me to the kitchen and showed me how he made all of the food. I knew how the food made me feel when I ate it, so after seeing it done, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do! Make people feel that love that chefs put into their food. After all of my time in the military, doing what I had to do, I decided that my next career would be everything that I loved to do. It had to be in the culinary arts!
AESCA: Are there certain people or places that inspired you?
KAJ: People that do this because they love to do it and those that share their passion for cooking through their work. This is art so that makes them artists!
AESCA: You’re specialty is barbecue. Tell me a little about how you got into it and why you love it so much.
KAJ: I started barbecuing when I was about 16 ½ years old. I had to help my uncles prepare all of their meat for their BBQ competitions, so that’s how I really got started. They won 2 “Memphis in May” competitions and I just tried to keep it going by putting my own twists on it. When people eat my food, I know instantly how they feel from the expressions on their faces and the sounds that they make when they are eating it. When you can make something with your hands and heart that can change a person’s entire persona just by sharing what you love…the possibilities are endless!
Some call that instant gratification!
AESCA: Why did you want to go to culinary school?
KAJ: I joined the school to learn everything that I could learn about the foundations and the traditional techniques of this craft that I love so much. And to be honest, to work in this industry all experience is welcomed, but to get the respect and just dues, most places desire or prefer a culinary diploma to get the top jobs.
AESCA: What do you look forward to with your AESCA education?
KAJ: Well I hope to get a better understanding of all aspects of this craft. I hope to be internationally certified in the culinary arts, and I hope to leave my mark on this school so that all that come after me can truly see that when you get a chance to live your dreams and do it, anything is possible!
AESCA: What have you enjoyed most so far with culinary school?
KAJ: All of the lessons, critiques, knowledge and overall experience from just doing it!
AESCA: What is the one ingredient you must have in your kitchen at all times?
KAJ: Passion and love! Without that, you are just following recipes!
AESCA: You recently won AESCA’s cupcake war competition as well as have participated in BBQ competitions around the world in the past. Tell me about what it’s like participating in culinary competitions.
KAJ: Learning new cultures and techniques from other countries and cultures just puts you ahead of your peers in so many ways. You have the first hand knowledge of a cooking skill that most have only read about. When yours is tested and proven, it’s like a true battle! Whose Kung Fu is the best?
AESCA: What is it like?
KAJ: It’s like jumping out of a plane with a jetpack on your back! That’s the only way that I can describe it. You are excited and nervous at the same time. I like to call it being ignited!
AESCA: Why do you love doing it?
KAJ: It’s fun because I get to measure my abilities to create things that others can but with the gratification of which person did it the best. You can’t pay for lessons that prove you can do something better than those that are doing the same thing that you are doing.
AESCA: What have you learned about the culinary and pastry arts from your time in competitions?
KAJ: Well, I’ve learned that it takes concentration and patience mixed with a little bit of staying true to yourself and pushing it through. Win, lose, or draw, you have to take the final decisions and critiques with a grain of salt to perfect what you already have. Even if you win, keep trying to make it better, because there is always someone out there that can do it better! You want that person to be you!
AESCA: What is your favorite kind of BBQ and why?
KAJ: I think that my favorite BBQ is a combination twist! That’s what I call my own recipe because I combine at least 5 different styles to create “Mac’s Q”! So far, everyone that has tried it says the same thing, “That just isn’t right!” It’s so wrong that it can’t be good but it is too good!
AESCA: You have experience cooking in Asia, South America, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Europe. What is it like to cook in other environments and cultures and what did you take away from it?
KAJ: I took firsthand knowledge and skill so that I could emulate and manipulate it to form my very own style of cooking!
AESCA: What do you look forward to most about your future in the culinary arts?
KAJ: Continuing to make my name a household name!
AESCA: What are your hopes and dreams for your career?
KAJ: I want everyone to eat my food and have restaurants all over the world!