By Stacy Hoelting, Culinary Arts Student
At the Boulder campus of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, a humble, southern born man by the name of Graham Mitchell is the Executive Chef of the school. Born in Winona, Mississippi, the “center of the universe, literally,” he was raised by his grandparents from the Depression era, who not only worked as farmers, but also as a teacher, veterinarian, and hospital administrator. Throughout most of his childhood, Chef Mitchell spent time cooking with his grandmother and canning vegetables from the garden, which they always had and mostly ate from. Although cooking with his grandmother inspired his culinary interest, Chef Mitchell’s first culinary job was as a fry cook at a restaurant called the Coop Deville. Afterwards, he worked in Lake Tahoe at a cafe, which consisted of an entire female staff, where he learned to make bread and was inspired to attend culinary school.
Provided is a small interview with Chef Mitchell:
Q: Who is your mentor?
A: My main mentor is a half Japanese man, Chef James McDevitt. I worked well with him for several years in an Asian inspired restaurant called Budo. I found that I have a natural affinity for the flavors of Asian cooking and am able to pair easily utilizing classic techniques. When used correctly, the flavors are vibrant and clean without overkill.
Q: You seemed to have always progressed forward in your career. Any advice to students about how to consistently improve themselves in the industry and gain success/promotions as you have?
A: Be sure to create a career path. Don’t start out too high in your career because you will eventually plateau. I take the hierarchy of the kitchen and the brigade system very seriously. I believe it is important to always start from the bottom and work up. I always chose the job based on the chef I wanted to work for, never the money. Humility is an integral part of the business.
Q: You have been instructing since 2005. Did the various chefs you worked for and mentors inspire you to become an instructor? What were your main influences for teaching?
A: First, my grandmother, who was a teacher, and also my instructors from culinary school, influenced me. I always thought that one day, it could be my calling.
Q: What qualities that you have acquired throughout your career assist you in instructing?
A: My experiences have made me how I am as a chef, and in this field (instructing), you learn about education. There are ties between education and training staff. Learning patience and fairness across the board are two of the key qualities that chef instructors need to possess. I naturally fell into teaching. The transition is difficult for most instructors, but you have to have the desire to give to students and people. With working at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, my career direction has changed without having to change my passion and focus. I taught before, but now I have the ability to create systems that train future culinarians.
Q: How do you uphold the Auguste Escoffier name everyday, and what do you feel are Escoffier’s greatest strengths as a school?
A: As a school, we still teach the fundamental techniques as provided down and codified by Auguste Escoffier himself, however, we also use technology as an engagement tool for the modern generation creating an ability to offer education across multiple platforms. In form and function, we teach the same thing everyone else does, but we do it efficiently. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is a new and innovative school that is open to utilizing modern technology as a opposed to sticking to traditional educational formats, which numbers have shown are failing in this country. Our greatest strength as a school is that we are embracing change.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
A: As many students that I have worked with in the past, and as much that I’ve done, I am most proud to see what former students are doing now.
Q: What restaurants in the Denver/Boulder area do you enjoy eating at?
A: Jax in Boulder, and small, hole in the wall places that serve Asian food. I eat at lots of little Vietnamese noodle joints.
Q: If you were to choose any job in the world, aside from your current job, what would it be?
A: I would run a small restaurant in my hometown. It would be nice to be closer to family and where I grew up. The idea of home is very appealing.
Q: If you were to cook yourself your favorite meal, what would it be?
A: My comfort “go to” meal is pad thai. However, I would also cook hoisin-braised short ribs with fresh horseradish mashed potatoes and glazed baby carrots.