April 1, 2014

Culinary Arts student Nick Cebalo (August 2013) spent seven years in the kitchen before deciding to attend Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, breaking his culinary monotony. The program has helped him refine his technique, cultivate confidence, and teach him the correct pronunciation of “roux.” Here he shares why he is externing in the front-of-the-house, his ultimate goal of working with children, and why he calls culinary the universal language.

Nick Cebalo, Culinary Arts Student

Escoffier: How did you decide to come to culinary school?
Cebalo: I had been working in kitchens for seven years with no schooling while living in Missoula, Montana. It had just gotten very regular for me with nothing new happening. Monotony started to get to me so I started looking around at culinary schools online. Boulder was a place I had always found interesting and I was taking a week vacation there anyway, so I checked it out in person. The school and I both agreed that this quick program was the best route for me to advance my career without taking too much time away from it. [After that trip to Boulder] I returned to Montana for the next year to save money for school. Come July, I said, “It’s time to jump; time to start a new chapter; time to do what I can while I’m young.”

Escoffier: And now you are approaching your final days of class…
Cebalo: It has been a crazy eight or nine months; it was definitely all well worth it! [The beginning] was that free falling feeling that you get like, “Where am I going to land?” Right now, it’s incredible. It’s been challenging and fulfilling and now that it is wrapping up I am excited to get to know where I live. I haven’t had a chance to explore everything that Boulder has to offer. I am currently working at Ted’s Montana Grill doing grill and p.m. management (for the entire restaurant). I’ll also be managing there for my externship.

Escoffier: You are focusing on the front-of-the-house for your externship?
Cebalo: After being behind the scenes (in the kitchen) doing fine dining for seven years, I was interested in the front-of-the-house. [I want to] help the relationship between the front and back-of-the-house, bridging the gap between the two. It is important to understand the frustrations that the front-of-the-house has to deal with. Also, the money is nice and that has definitely been a plus!

Escoffier: Do you see your future in the front-of-the-house?
Cebalo: I would like to be the head of the back-of-the-house. There is nothing that relaxes me more than using my knife and a sauté station; that is meditation for me. [My ultimate goal – eventually – is to] do after school program for ages six to fourteern, teaching kids the basics and how to make snacks. Everyone remembers coming home from school as a kid saying, “Mom, I’m hungry!” We can teach them easy, safe things to cook for Mom and Dad. It could make the parents’ lives easier and get kids inspired! They are our culinary future and our future as a whole.

Escoffier: How about your immediate future, what comes next after your externship?
Cebalo: I’m saving up some money for my next move. The amazing part – and the other plus to having a degree – is that you can go anywhere in the world. Culinary is a universal language. I’m thinking Seattle because of their amazing culinary industry and the availability of fresh products…

Escoffier: How did school make you a better chef?
Cebalo: It has made me more confident in what I am doing. Before, a head chef would assign me a task and I would constantly have to ask what and how to do it. Now if I am given an assignment I have all the confidence to jump right in and apply the techniques I have been taught, knowing what the end result should be. It helps when your chef asks you to make a roux and you don’t have to ask, “What is a ra? Can you spell that again?” (laughing)

Escoffier: What will you miss most about being in school?
Cebalo: My classmates – the family we have created. When you are eating with and working side-by-side with people everyday, you really get to know them. You see the true person because you are in high pressure situations.

Escoffier: Do you have any advice to share with new students entering the program?
Cebalo: Be wide-eyed and open-eared. You may have made rice or mashed potatoes your entire life, but someone is going to show you something that will make you better. Don’t shut anything out. Be a sponge.