According to Chef Ron DeSantis, CMC, the key to successful ‘cheffing’ is to never stop learning. His sentiments echoed during our exclusive Zoom event with the esteemed chef and over 120 Escoffier students and faculty in attendance.
A True Certified Master Chef
The event was moderated by Chef Kirk T. Bachmann, Escoffier Boulder campus President. He explained that the term ‘Certified Master Chef’ represents achieving the pinnacle of chef status. It’s also the most demanding achievement offered by the American Culinary Federation. The grueling CMC test comprises eight days of intense pressure under the scrutiny of peers. “It’s not for the faint of heart!”
He spoke admirably about how Chef Ron expresses his thoughts related to cooking with not only his eyes and hands but with his HEART. An indication of true passion-which is what cooking is ultimately all about.
Relying on Formal Culinary Training
When Chef Ron took center stage he discussed his culinary background and how he got to where he is today. After leaving the Marines he went to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America. Upon graduating he decided Europe was where he needed to be for exposure to authentic international and classical cuisines. While there he realized that he could take what he learned from both his education and professional training and continue on his intended career path. So, he returned to the U.S. to teach at CIA and manage the school’s flagship restaurant, aptly named at the time, Escoffier Restaurant.
Reminiscing and Re-Imagining
He reminisced about his time at Escoffier Restaurant and how his goal there was to take classically rooted dishes and modernize them. Holding up his prized (and tattered – showing all the love this book has seen) Le Guide Culinaire, he described a recipe he remembers vividly recreating based off the classic instructions and his culinary training. It was #2663 – Ris de Veau Grille’ St Germain – Grilled Sweetbreads.
The original recipe calls for grilled sweetbreads, potatoes cooked in butter, olive (tournee) shaped carrots, sauce bearnaise (on the side), and pea puree (also on the side).
His modern take introduced grilled sweetbreads that sit on a fresh pea puree-creating a striking color contrast combined with the grilled sweetbreads texture against the silky puree, glazed baby carrots, pomme anna-constructed in a ring which sits directly on top of the sweetbreads and puree, and where the bearnaise becomes a compound butter drizzled so it melts gracefully over the entire dish.
This, he says, is how to re-imagine classic cuisine for today’s guests. AND, this example was an instant hit with our students. Their comments came in fast and furious following this story!
As our audience was completely engaged, it was no surprise that when the platform opened up for student questions there wasn’t any hesitation.
How long did it take you to become a Master Chef?
“I’ve been preparing for this my whole life”
As a young boy learning what food his family could afford and what was available to them helped shape his interest in food. From there his entire life focused on learning and preparing to be a Master Chef in different ways. From his time in the Military, to culinary school, to his stint in Europe. However, once he made the decision to test for this coveted certification, is when the dedicated preparation began. He admits that competition isn’t for everyone and affirmed that preparation for the CMC test made him a better chef. Also, that the knowledge base from his formal education prepared him for what was yet to come. In his eyes, this test and other competitions leading up to it, is just all part of the learning process.
When asked what some of his favorite books are he referred to classics as well as some written by close friends:
- Le Guide Culinaire
- American Masala – “Does an amazing job of bringing Indian spices to American food”
- L.A. Son, My Life My City My Food (Korean-American food)
He recommends that culinary students build a broad library, never just one kind of book and mentioned others types of books he has in his collection including vegetarian, Spanish, Italian, and even a book on charcuterie. He joked that if you ask a chef if they possess or use Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking and they tell you no…they’re lying because “everybody looks at that stuff”!
Plant Based Cheffing
Chef Ron is a true believer that plant-based cooking is the way of the future. “Good principles of menu design tell us we need to have more vegetables on there”. He continues, saying that vegetables need to be a ‘co-star’ to protein and at times, can even become the main attraction.
He feels that food like grains, legumes and rice are becoming part of the ‘plant-foward’ movement and that dialing back animal protein in dishes allows these components to shine.
Career A to Career B Advice
“The restaurant business is not the only business out there.”
He encourages more mature students and career changers to take a much broader look into culinary career options. Great opportunities he highlighted include college and universities – mentioning that they are very fun jobs; contract foodservice management companies-especially for those who may have previous administration or management experience; and assisted living communities.These types of institutions are hungry for trained culinarians and may not have the demanding, higher stress atmosphere that high end restaurants do.
What is The Single Most Influential Thing that Shaped You as a Cook?
This was probably our most profound question asked. Chef Ron’s answer was simple and as telling as we would expect: “I never had a Plan B. I joined the Marines at 17, then attended CIA, then went off to Europe, and the rest fell into place. It was all part of my Plan A.”
How To Move Forward
The most important aspect of culinary school is…every aspect, in his opinion. He’s convinced that he is where he is today because of culinary school. “It sets a foundation for the future”. He urges students to continually seek inspiration by simply looking around, as “sometimes it’s right in front of you.”
However, his best advice to upcoming grads in this time of uncertainty in the restaurant industry is that they make their own culinary career paths. In particular he noted two former students as examples; one is opening a food truck and the other is opening a vegan junk food joint. He admits that the sky’s the limit and that a formal culinary education, like one at Escoffier, is what’s helping pave their way.