January 16, 2014

Career Services Spotlight: Director Mark Shoenthaler


Pamela Palmer, Director of Career Services

When discussing culinary influences and mentors within culinary students’ lives, Chef Pamela Palmer’s name is often mentioned. Culinary Arts student Tom Babler highlighted Schoenthaler’s patience with his never-ending barrage of questions and described him as both a coach and a friend. Given his reputation, it is no wonder that Schoenthaler traded in his instructor hat to become the Director of Career Services, where, from his perspective, he could help even more by working with the student population as a whole. Here, Chef and Career Services Director Schoenthaler shares a bit about his background, what “the whole package” means, and some tips for interviewing.

Escoffier: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Schoenthaler: I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was ten years old tinkering in the kitchen with my grandma. So I went to culinary school right out of high school and externed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Next I worked in Colorado (where I was born and raised), San Francisco (where I started a catering company which would become number two in the city) and Seattle (where I worked as a personal chef for several different families and started teaching for the first time). I came back to Colorado to be with my mother and started teaching as a Chef Instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts three years ago. I get great, great pleasure in teaching. I’ve consistently turned out awesome students. It is especially gratifying when you see the lights go on for students and they “get it.” But as a Chef Instructor I had pretty limited contact with the whole student population. Now with [my role in Career Development] I can actually help more. Now I try to help all of the students.

Escoffier: How would you explain your role in Career Services?
Schoenthaler: I’m here as [the students’] coach to guide them. They are getting an awesome education from Chef Instructors. My primary goal is to help them achieve goals and desires, which are not necessarily the same for every student. Career Services is the coach and mentor to give enough advice to survive in a commercial kitchen – or whatever your culinary dream would be. I also try to control expectations; not every job is for every student. I believe we need middle-range jobs, too. There are also students who can achieve great careers as writers/bloggers, executives and many other areas instead of just the kitchen Not everyone is going to be an executive chef at a five-star hotel.

Escoffier: How do you help match a student to a job or externship?
Schoenthaler: For determining appropriate fit, I have a good rapport with Chef Instructors and check in with them; they have better insight as to what is a good match and who would fit where. One of my other major jobs is to cultivate and keep relationships within the culinary world.

Escoffier: How can you tell if a student will do well at an externship or job?
Schoenthaler: One of the major things [in determining success] is academics – how are they doing here at school? Being a chef is not just being a good cook, it is a whole package, it’s common sense and humility. You need to think on your feet, you need to take criticism (humility), and you need to stay very clean. I say, “Clutter on the counter is clutter on the brain” (I borrowed that from Chef Kelly) and “What I permit, I promote.”

Escoffier: Can you share any advice about interviewing?
Schoenthaler: I have hired hundreds of people in my career and first impressions are critical! Most [employers] have probably made a decision if they want to pursue the interview process within the first 60 to 90 seconds. Be ready for the “Why should I hire you?” question; you better have an answer. A firm handshake is also important. We have students who are shy here; it’s not going to do you any favors to not look a person in the eye and look at the floor. And finally, a personal thank you note is very important; it’s proper etiquette.

Escoffier: What types of similarities do you see with your most successful students?
Schoenthaler: Passion is the number one thing. The most successful students have a determination. They are so interested; they are like sponges and are very attentive. You are going to get as much out of this as you put into it. Start networking while you are in school and think about your externship. The successful students have a game plan and have an externship lined up half way through the program. They do well academically; they learn how to study. Successful students are also very disciplined in their lives – they have a path and are willing to make it happen with the guidance of the school.

Escoffier: You shared advice for what to do, any no-nos?
Schoenthaler: Know-it-alls and attitudes: that is the kiss of death in this business. Leave it at home. You have to be humble to survive in this business.