February 25, 2021

This month we’ve experienced a world-wide focus on Black history. Throughout February we featured Escoffier faculty and alumni, including online culinary arts graduate Tiffany Moore, who’s inspiring story you can read here. Although officially Black History Month draws to a close, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts continues to celebrate the contributions of so many, and as such we want to share a collection of introspection. We hope you enjoy these personal perspectives from Escoffier alumni, students, faculty and staff.

Escoffier Alumni

Escoffier Alumni Christopher BerryChristopher Berry – Private Chef/Owner – My Little Bluebirds Catering

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
I’ve known since I was younger that I wanted to be a Chef! I was raised around great food. My grandmother and dad were amazing cooks. Cooking has always been in my veins!

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
Growing up my two biggest influences were again my dad and grandmother. They never ran me out of the kitchen and if I wanted to know how something was created they would take time out and show me. Once I got to Escoffier Chef Raff and Chef Miguel really brought out the confidence in me. They are awesome Chefs, instructors and people in general!

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you? Why and how does it inspire you?
It’s not a cuisine that inspires me but rather a dessert. When Chocoflan is baked it changes positions and you wonder how the flan moved from bottom to top while being baked, and still come out to be such a beautiful cake? That’s how cooking is to me; so many things transpire in a hot kitchen but when it reaches the diner table it’s a beautiful dish and if presented the right way can make people wonder how it came to be that way!

It has been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree? If so, can you share some examples of how you’ve used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
Yes, I totally agree food does bring people together. When I was in culinary school we had family meals together everyday before we cleaned the kitchen and we would trade stories on how we got to culinary school, and the stories were very interesting. The “bringing people together” aspect of cooking is one of the reasons I wanted to become a Chef, so I could create great food and bring people together over a good meal!

 

Escoffier Alumni Garry MerrittGarry Merritt – Chef/Owner – Dem Kentucky Boyz BBQ

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
As a kid, I used to watch my Mom cook meals for her 10 kids. I was amazed at how she could create our meals from little to nothing. She never wasted anything when it came to using everything she was cooking with.

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
It would definitely have to be my Mom, hands down. She loved to cook for our church. The way people would always talk about how good everything was brought joy to her. I get that same feeling whenever I cook for people and hear them talk about how good my food is, gives me joy.

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you? Why and how does it inspire you?
The cuisine that most inspires me is French Cuisine. I love that their traditions are influenced by a lot of countries throughout Europe. Their dishes are so technical and complicated but simple at the same time.

It has been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree? If so, can you share some examples of how you’ve used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
I was born and raised in the South (Kentucky). Sad to say, but most of the meals we ate were either fried, covered in gravy, or grilled. When I left home and enlisted into the U.S. Army I got the chance to travel abroad and experience other cultures and their foods. I started experimenting with cuisine based on what I thought I knew, for my lady friend-now wife, trying to impress her. She loved it and the more I experimented with it, the better I got.

Escoffier Students

Danielle Mitchell – Private Chef – D’Amazyn Chyfe Danielle Goldwire

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
I decided to pursue a career in culinary arts after my culinary genius passed away (RIH PawPaw Bihms).

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
My PawPaw Bihms was my biggest culinary influence. He made us Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Dinner! He cooked every single day. Growing up it was a lot of us that lived in the house that my pawpaw built with his bare hands. We never went without a meal. I mean I am eternally grateful for what my pawpaw could do even with the bare minimum. My pawpaw was a preacher. We went to church Sunday-Saturday, but our favorite was Saturday Bible study. We couldn’t wait to run down the street to the church building, again that my pawpaw built, and get some freshly made pancakes. That was the light of our day.

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you?
Pancakes are my favorite. That’s a specialty my pawpaw made and he gave me the recipe before he passed. That will always be my favorite.

It’s been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree? If so, can you share some examples of how you’ve used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
That is definitely a true statement. I have learned a lot about different cultures so far. I am one of those people who can make anything from any culture. Right now I specialize in Birria Tacos. I decided to recreate them to my liking and see if others would like them. Being a military spouse is one of the best things that could have happened to me because it allows me to be able to come in contact with a lot of different cultures. Before moving to Virginia we were stationed in North Carolina where I first started to sell tacos and they were a big hit there. Now in VA they are a big hit as well. I look forward to learning more and making a bigger name for myself after I graduate from Escoffier.

 

Escoffier Student Troy SpencerTroy Spencer – Chef/Owner – D&Ts Kitchen and Catering

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
I decided to pursue a career in culinary arts when I retired from the railroad. I sat home for the first year. Then started making boudin (sausage balls) and sold them by the dozen. After time I started selling other food and my business started to take off.

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
When I was growing up my mother was an incredible cook. Now, coming up I had no choice but to help with the cooking; cutting veggies, peeling potatoes, shucking peas. I took interest when I was 12. Mom taught me how to bake cakes. When she taught me how to make and sell crackling (pork rind), I was hooked.

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you?
It has to be Cajun cuisine. My momma was Cajun, I’m Cajun and we all cook Cajun–lots of Cajun comfort food.

It has been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree? If so, can you share some examples of how you’ve used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
Yes I agree. I lived in California for a while and my neighbor was from India. I was invited to have dinner and first we sat on the floor. The food was very new to me. It was the first time I’d eaten unleavened bread and curry chicken, but l loved it. So, through my neighbor I experienced something about the Indian culture.

During our interaction with Troy, we discovered that he and his crew feed first responders during the holidays, so we asked him to tell us more about this selfless act.

We feed the first responders a few times a year. Also on 911 we volunteer with HEB, a grocery chain throughout Texas, and they feed thousands of first responders. D&Ts Kitchen and Catering feeds them on our own once or twice a year. It’s an honor to give back to the community. We also donate meals to an adult daycare center nearby. My wife and I try to teach our kids and grandkids the importance of giving, it’s part of being a responsible citizen.

Troy Spencer - Feeding First Responders

Escoffier Chef Instructors

Escoffier Chef Instructor Kareen LintonChef Kareen Linton

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
Even though food was all around me because my mom was a chef, I went into fashion within the entertainment industry. I would have to say that food found me. When my youngest sister passed in 2005, I really wanted to know my purpose. So, I asked God to show it to me, because I knew deep down inside there was something I needed to do. Well, it was shown to me. The truth is I discovered that my purpose is to teach, food is my vehicle for inspiring others to reach for higher heights.

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
My biggest culinary influence came from my mother, who passed in 2018. She was a chef at
Chase bank in New York City. She would make incredible foods from our native island of
Barbados. She had many cookbooks, but somehow, she would transform her ingredients to higher heights. Everyone loved her cooking and I wanted to understand and know how she did her magic. My mom fulfilled her dream of going to culinary school late in life and I witnessed the joy that resided within her, which also followed into her food. My grandmother and great aunt were also great influences on the way I approach the development of each ingredient. I have discovered the magic. Knowing your ingredients and the techniques allows you to transcend them to higher heights.

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you? Why and how does it inspire you?
I am from Barbados, but I was raised in Brooklyn from the age of nine. So, I would have to say the cuisine of my Bajan heritage inspires me. I love the flavors, which are a true representation of “Island in the Sun”. The food is colorful, flavorful and most of all it is the spices that are used to enhance every other ingredient. That to me is magic! This magic fills the soul on so many levels. As I am writing these words, a huge smile came over my face and I instantly thought of my mother, grandmother and great aunt humming and cooking in their kitchen. They have all left me a great legacy to build upon. I am filled with such gratitude.

It has been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree. If so, can you share some examples of how you have used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
I totally agree! Food can teach us so much about location, trends, and flavors. I have learned and I live by this philosophy, ingredients change, but techniques do not. I have traveled to different countries and within the U.S., and no matter where I go food always brings people together. Once we sit together and start to share our experiences about a certain food or even the best food experience, we also discover that we are more alike than we are not. Everyone has a story surrounding their favorite dish as a child that continues you to give that warm and fuzzy feeling within. This is a great way to start a conversation regarding culture. It is there that we all can make that instant connection.

What is the best piece of culinary advice you have received?
The best advice that I have received was from my mentor, World Certified Master Chef Reimund
Pitz. He said “Hone your skills and network, network, network!”

 

Escoffier Chef Instructor Krystal DandieChef Krystal Dandie

What made you decide to pursue a career in culinary arts?
I truly enjoy cooking. Everything about making something out of nothing really intrigues me. Long story short, my mom can NOT cook (lol). So, I was tasked at an early age with preparing dinners for the family. When I was old enough I enrolled in the culinary arts program through my high school. From there, my passion grew and I enjoyed things I never even thought about eating.

Who was your biggest culinary influence or mentor when you were growing up?
Growing up I was infatuated with Bobby Flay, even having his picture in my wallet. But, as I grew older I worked with many different chefs that really took me under their wing and honed my skills. One Chef in particular was Chef Franklin Thomas. He really taught me how to do everything from grilling to making the perfect risotto. Truly a blessing to have a mentor that continues to hone my talents and feed my thirst for knowledge, while also pointing me in the right direction career wise.

Describe the cuisine that inspired/inspires you? Why and how does it inspire you?
I love Asian food. I swear everything about it is LOVE! I was born in Japan so I feel a little connected to the culture. My family is so tired of me finding recipes online and ‘guinea-pigging’ them to try it. One of the latest recipes that I am tweaking is my vegan lo mein. It’s so good! I first started enjoying Asian food when I was initially applying for college and entered a contest to make your favorite dish. This was my first time making teriyaki sauce from scratch and it came out perfect. I literally was just throwing things in the pan that I felt would taste right and it worked… SURPRISINGLY!

It has been said that the best way to learn about a person or culture is to eat with them, do you agree. If so, can you share some examples of how you’ve used food to learn about a culture or gotten to know someone better?
Yes! I totally agree. I have a friend from Trinidad and her mother visits often. EVERY TIME she is here, I’m over there getting a plate of stew chicken and rice and pea with the cabbage on the side. I didn’t grow up eating this as my family is of Jamaican descent and we cook a little bit different, but to learn and see how the cultures parallel is very interesting. They have a sweeter taste to their food whereas Jamaican food is more savory. She is always showing me different spices and ingredients and telling me about how they do things “back home”. It is such an experience.

What’s the best piece of culinary advice you’ve received?
I would have to say the best culinary advice that I’ve ever received would be to make the water “SALTY LIKE THE SEA”. This is in regards to boiling water for pasta and vegetables. It is just something that I’ve always remembered and even say now! SALT YOUR WATER!

Escoffier Staff

Escoffier Associate Director of Career Services Eric AustinEric Austin – Associate Director of Career Services

How did you embark on your current career path? How has your career path changed over time?
I discovered my passion for academics and helping students over 10 years ago when I first entered the workforce in an academic environment. I have continued to further develop my passion with helping students achieve their academic and career goals preparing them for post graduate life.

How did you come to Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts? What drew you to this institution?
My exposure previously working in culinary education led me to Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

Did you have a career mentor or guide, if so, how did they inspire you?
My inspiration comes from several mentors and guides. I fundamentally believe in the importance of mentorship being open for guidance.

Can you describe a meal or food-related event that brought you joy?
Attending the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago as a vendor brought me joy. It was my first time attending with no expectations. To be amongst so many industry professionals, celebrities and manufacturers that I admire was life changing. From that moment forward I knew I was in the right profession.

 

Escoffier VP-Student Finance Operations Anthony WilliamsAnthony Williams – Vice President, Student Finance Operations

How did you embark on your current career path? How has your career path changed over time?
Ironically enough I can candidly say that I never thought I would be working in Higher Education; not because I disliked it, but there was so much I didn’t understand. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, as a first generation college student from a blue collar family that lived paycheck to paycheck, which I still marvel at. I declared my major in Economics-with a Finance concentration-as I wanted to understand how money works so that I could help out my immediate family and teach my nieces, nephew, and little cousins that were looking up to me. I remember receiving a letter outlining my loan repayment options two weeks prior to graduation. I had completed a FAFSA and spent countless hours in the financial aid line, yet, I had no idea that I owed student loans. I talked to some of my friends and realized that they were in the same boat. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to help as many students as I could by educating them on how they were financing their education, and more importantly why they should strive to borrow only what is needed. My mission was to advocate for kids and parents trying to finance their education and ensuring that they understood the “Why of the What.” Over my career I have shifted from VP of Student Finance to Campus President, to VP of Operations over multiple campuses, but there is something that keeps bringing me back to student finance and I truly believe the core of it is helping educate students on how to finance their education. I have been in Higher Education since 2003 and can’t imagine ever doing anything different.

How did you come to Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts? What drew you to this institution?
In a previous life I worked with a CEO and enjoyed great success working with him. He spoke glowingly of how Escoffier was a disrupter to the traditional paradigm of Higher Education and I completely bought into his vision. Early on, I would sometimes open up the location at 6:30 AM before anyone else was in the office to get a jump on the day. I remember preparing to open my office one morning as I turned the lights on and discovered a poster hanging outside my door that I had somehow missed until that day which read, “One year from now, you will have wished you started here a year earlier” which could not have been more prophetic. It has been an incredible ride thus far and I look forward to everything that the future entails!

Did you have a career mentor or guide, if so, how did they inspire you?
I have had the privilege of having several great mentors from my 7th grade teacher who was my most influential teacher and basketball coach as he filled a huge void in my life after my mother’s sudden passing, to former Operational Leaders who taught me everything they knew as it related to running a business. However, if I could only choose one, it would be the President of a culinary school group where I worked at the time. He was incredible for several reasons. First, his energy was infectious and he walked around high-fiving his teams and making sure that everyone was motivated daily. He made sure that his entire executive team was exposed to and understood all aspects of our business. I loved the cost effective graduate level of education I was receiving as he would send me to our eighteen locations to help out in virtually any functional area. And unbeknownst to me at the time, he was grooming me for a campus president role. I ultimately became the second youngest president in the company, at the time, at 28 years old. To this day I can still pick up the phone and troubleshoot anything with him. I never left his office feeling anything other than wanting to be great as he truly is like a football coach that convinces you it’s possible to run through a wall…and to this day I will run through a wall if ‘Coach’ calls the play.

Can you describe a meal or food-related event that brought you joy?
I love to bbq, rather to smoque meats, and even established a private catering company called Smoquer’s Anonymous. When I am out on the smoquer/grill, it reminds me of warm weather, good music and simply enjoying time with family, friends, and loved ones. Not to mention, in my family, being nice on the grill comes with a badge of honor! My brothers-Michael and Brandon- and I are constantly in competition regarding who is the nicest on the grill. My cousin Anthony will tell you that we all learned from him, while my aunts Pat, Prezel, and Betty will tell you that they are the true bbq matriarchs of the family, but my grandmother Bernice will tell you that as the second oldest of her thirteen siblings she taught us all as she was responsible for helping her mother with the cooking. Whenever the family gets together these are very fruitful conversations that start with fun banter back and forth but ultimately provide a niche piece of history relative to our family’s Cottonplant, Arkansas roots coupled with an unsettled debate on who truly is the best smoquer/grillmaster in the family. I’m not sure we will ever have the answer but I enjoy having the conversations!