Like many other chefs, cooking wasn’t something Liz Aragon set out to do. In fact, her ultimate career goal was to join the military but shortly into her recruitment process, she discovered a previously torn meniscus wasn’t going to let that happen. Devastated by this news, Liz found solace in the kitchen, and it’s been her safe place since. Ready to make her love of cooking into a profession, she turned to our Colorado culinary school to give her the professional training she’d need to start her career off right. With only 8 more weeks left in her externship, she is feeling great about graduation and what lies ahead.
Liz took some time out of her busy schedule to sit down with us over ramen and talk about the path that brought her to culinary school, what her favorite thing about Escoffier is and the one kitchen lesson she will carry with her forever.
AESCA: Why did you choose Escoffier Schools for your education?
Liz Aragon: When I was younger, I always wanted to go into the military. Unfortunately, I got denied because I have a torn meniscus in my knee. After that news, I was emotionally distraught, and I turned to cooking to help me cope. I had a friend who was working with me at Safeway and was getting ready to enroll at Escoffier, and I stared studying up on the school. That’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life. Being in the kitchen just makes me happy. It’s my safe zone where nothing can touch me. It’s me and the flame behind the stove.
AESCA: Was there anything that Escoffier offered that jumped out at you?
LA: It was really weird, because I went in for the culinary arts program to better my senses as far as my palette and using seasonings properly. But I got into the pastry block with Chef Jonathan Knight, and I fell in love with the art behind baking. I loved everything about making breads, cakes, cookies. I’m still in love with cooking but I have a newfound love for pastry.
“The program helped my imagination go places where it’s never gone before with food. School has taught me how to harness my creativity through food. Especially plating. I love making a dish look beautiful because you eat with your eyes first.”
AESCA: Are you hoping to pursue pastry now or could you go any direction?
LA: I’ll take anything. As long as I’m in the kitchen, I’m happy. Like right now in the restaurant I’m working at, when I’m making this ramen or I’m making this appetizer, I know it’s where I belong. It’s in the kitchen just cooking my heart out.
AESCA: What was your favorite part of the culinary arts program?
LA: The Farm-to-Table Experience. My favorite part of the program was getting that hands-on experience at the farm and learning how these animals are bred and the way the crops are grown and how they till their land or do the perma-culture. Everything about the farm was just intriguing to me. I even took a day off work to go with class that’s in their farm-to-table blocks now and spent a day on the farm with them. It just really jumped to me how much this school emphasizes local and fresh ingredients.
AESCA: You’re currently on your externship at Rocky Mountain Ramen. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s going?
LA: It’s going great! Actually, one of my fellow classmates, James, was working here before me and he was the one who recommended I work here. But I wanted to try the food and meet the people first. I don’t want to work for someone that isn’t personable and doesn’t have the level of passion I do. The people here have so much passion. Before I started working here, I came in, had lunch and spoke with the owner for a little while. After that, I was just hooked. They cater to homemade ingredients. The broth is cooked for hours and hours and it’s so smooth and so rich. That’s the way food should be. They’re very intricate and into everything they do. I knew right away this is where I belong. Working behind Asian food and learning more about the culture at the same time is exactly what I want to do.
AESCA: What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your externship?
LA: Never think you’re better than someone else. There’s always someone out there who is better than you. I learned that here. You know, I thought I could cook the perfect noodle. And there’s someone here who can cook it better than I can. But that just motivates me to perfect my craft and work harder and be better.
AESCA: You work with a couple other Escoffier students there as well. So, what do you think sets Escoffier students apart in the industry?
LA: I feel the difference between Escoffier grads and others in the industry is professionalism. We were taught a certain way to carry ourselves as far as uniforms go and keeping them clean and presenting ourselves well. We work in an open kitchen and you have to constantly smile. For me, that’s the way I am anyways. I try not to let anything bring me down. To me, that’s the difference between those who have and haven’t attended Escoffier.
“We carry a sense of professionalism that was drilled into us from day one.”
AESCA: Where do you see your career in the next five years?
LA: I would love to be opening up my own shop. At least, getting the thing started. If not that, I do want to run a catering business. I’ve been trying to get that up and running for the past month. I have all the paperwork. It’s just getting the funding to kickstart everything.
AESCA: Here’s another fun one. Who would attend your ultimate dinner party?
LA: That’s another tough one because it really wouldn’t be anyone famous. One famous person that would be there would be Chef Curtis Duffy. I admire that man and his accomplishments so much. Also, some of the chef instructors from Escoffier that have helped me along the way when I wanted to give up. There were plenty of times when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore and I just wanted to quit. And they sat down, talked to me and kept me going. That’s what I like the most about Escoffier. No matter what you’re going through, they’re there for you. Whether it’s your professional life or your personal life, they’re gonna keep you going without asking too many questions.