September 28, 2020

Never stop learning…that’s Escoffier Online graduate Rhonda Adkins’ take on life. A 22 year veteran of the United States Air Force, this mom of six decided that after military retirement things were just getting started. Getting her Diploma in Culinary Arts was just another method of self-improvement that she consistently strives for in her professional life. After all, she currently manages a retail kitchen store/deli, is the store’s cooking school head chef and instructor, owns a food blog (The Kitchen Witch), AND has a freelance food photography business…all reasons that motivated her to get her formal culinary education.

Why Culinary School and Particularly Why Escoffier?

I felt that my career was ready for that step. I am a big supporter of continuing education (I have my bachelor’s degree in Education, specializing in adult workforce education development). I have an intense passion for anything culinary and I strive to be the best at whatever I do–getting a formal education was that missing link.

I chose Escoffier for several reasons. For one, they have a great reputation; I love that they have adjusted to current trends and teach international cuisine and Farm to Table. Although less fun, the business courses are probably the most important to set students up for success.

After a lot of research and knowing that Escoffier was approved by the VA (which has high standards for schools) I was sold. When I discovered Escoffier had an online program, I have to admit at first, I was skeptical. But, I’m 54 years old and I wasn’t in a position to move, leave my family and my current position to advance my education. So, it fit with my life.

Blueberry Skyr by Rhonda Adkins

Blueberry Skyr – Photo courtesy of Rhonda Adkins

How Did Your Externship Help Enhance Your Education?

Although I completed the majority of my externship at Pizazz, my place of employment, I set some goals to push myself to do things I’m not comfortable with. I worked for a few days at our two butcher shops in town and learned how to break down primal cuts. Not only did this teach me something new but it helps build a good relationship with them.

A Non-Traditional Student

Many people think that those who attend culinary school want to be a restaurant chef. However, being that Rhonda already has a culinary focused career path, she had some sound advice for current Escoffier students who might be on the same, non-traditional path.

I have a friend who went to culinary school, graduated top of his class, got hired in a 5-star restaurant and totally burned out. He swore he never wanted to work with food again. I knew his passion and how talented he was. I suggested that he look at doing recipe development, teaching, catering or being a personal chef. I reminded him that having a passion for food doesn’t mean you have to work or own a restaurant (which he thought was his dream). He started looking at other alternatives and now works as a successful personal chef. The moral of her story is:

If food is your passion there is a path out there. What you think is your dream may not, in reality, be what you love to do. Keep an open mind and a hunger for finding the path that is best for you. Success comes from being happy at what you do, not by doing what you think success is.

What Have You Learned on Your Culinary Journey?

I have learned that you never stop learning, there is always more out there. It’s hard work, physically and mentally, but it’s immensely rewarding. I’ve also learned that you have got to be flexible and keep up on what’s trending, you have to keep it fresh and offer what your customers are looking for, you just have to do it with your own spin. You do this job, not for the money (it’s not a top earning career for most), you do it because it’s your heart and soul.

When you are a feeder, you live to bring culinary pleasure to other people.

How has Escoffier Prepared You for The Future You Envision?

Having a solid [culinary] background means better recipe development and utilizing techniques that I hadn’t before. The plating portion enhanced my food photography. I’ve already used so many of the recipes we learned in catering and when I talk to my students it’s with a lot more confidence.

I think more than anything, it’s giving me confidence. It’s also solidified that I have chosen the right career for me. School work isn’t work at all because I love it. I am proud to be a graduate.

What have you learned from the mistakes you’ve made along the way?
No one likes to make mistakes, let alone admit to them. But Rhonda has a very healthy attitude about them.

If you don’t make mistakes you’ll never get better.

A mistake is a small risk, that went awry. A bump on the proverbial highway to a successful career. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t taking risks and stretching your wings. I’ve come to realize that I learn more from my mistakes than I ever did from anything else.

How has COVID-19 Affected You As a Business Owner?

It has taught me that you have to be creative, you have to figure out a way to keep the doors open. I’ve reprioritized the way I work.

Her Retail Store and Deli

Rhonda Adkins, Escoffier graduate, prepping for a cooking demonstration class at Pizzaz.

Rhonda Adkins, Escoffier graduate, prepping for a cooking demonstration class at Pizzaz.

We never imagined when we opened Pizzaz July 31, 2019 that a pandemic would make our take-n-go meals so popular. It had the potential to crush us, we no longer had downtown traffic stopping in to pick-up pre-made sandwiches, salads, etc. We were wasting so much food. Within one week we changed up our business model, we still made sandwiches and salads but they were made to order. Then we put our focus and on making family entrees, ready to heat and eat or with minimal cooking like fresh frozen pasta.

We also listened to our customers. They wanted special meals like they would get when they went to dinner or cocktails. We started making personal charcuterie boards on a scrap hardwood board from a local wood craftsman’s business. We do a date night dinner Thursday-Saturday where you get two seasoned ready to cook steaks (ribeye or filet mignon), two sides ready to heat and eat (with instructions), and a bottle of wine.

We also came up with a whimsical idea that everyone can relate too–Covid Sanity Cocktails. These are drinks in a pouch (like an adult juice box). All you do is add the ice. We give them cute names like “In Your Dreamsicle” and personalize the bag with “Hi their name”. We think it helps people feel connected.

Bourbon Pork Chops©RhondaAdkins2018

Bourbon Pork Chops – Photo courtesy of Rhonda Adkins

Photography Business and Blog

As far as my photography and writing. I currently can’t go on location to do any shooting and my articles – recipes have to do with DIY foods. I recently shared how to make butter and cheese which I learned from Escoffier’s Farm to Table® block.

Be Flexible and Share the Load

All journeys take a crooked path.

There are a lot of things in life we can’t control, you just have to be flexible and creative. Rely on the good people around you (I have an amazing boss who is adventurous and creative). It takes every single team member to make a business succeed.

Special Note: Rhonda was selected to be a speaker at this year’s Boulder graduation ceremony. While virtually sharing her words, her message of support and encouragement–with some well placed humor–was felt by everyone; graduates, friends, family, and faculty alike.