When it comes to our chef instructors, an all-encompassing love of food is a resume must. No one exhibits that more than the newest member of our team, Chef Luke Shaffer. While pursuing a degree in broadcast from the University of Texas, his part-time job as a waiter turned into a full-time love of the culinary arts. A culinary degree and many prestigious positions later, Chef Luke is ready to pass along all of his hard-earned knowledge and kitchen war stories to the next generation of culinarians.
Chef Luke took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about his favorite job, why he went into the culinary arts and his secret ingredient for just about everything.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: What is your background in the culinary arts?
Luke Shaffer: My culinary career started in college. While I was attending The University of Texas to get a Bachelor’s degree in Radio-Television-Film, I got a job as a server at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. Working the front of the house was cool, but I was drawn to the hustle of the kitchen. There was so much more action back there! So I talked one of the kitchen managers into letting me cook a few shifts a week and the rest, as they say, is history.
After a brief detour with an online marketing agency, I decided to turn my love of cooking into a career. I enrolled in culinary school in Austin. While there, I staged at Uchi, a Japanese and sushi restaurant that many consider the best in Austin, and some even say the whole state of Texas. From there, I was on the opening team for a British-style gastropub, Haddington’s. There I was Executive Sous Chef under a Certified Master Chef who taught me tons of techniques and new flavor combinations. After that, I was on the opening team for the highly touted Swift’s Attic. As Chef de Partie, I helped create menu items, ran the lunch crew, and helped put in place the systems for running the kitchen. Next was 290 Grind, as small cafe and coffee shop just outside Austin. As the Executive Chef, I redesigned the kitchen and revamped the menu utilizing as much local produce and as many local purveyors as possible.
And now my journey continues into culinary education with Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts!
AESCA: What has been your favorite job so far in your career?
LS: So far, my favorite job was my time spent as the house butcher at Haddington’s. I would get in early, before anyone else. I would put on some coffee, crank up some music, and start processing meat. From breaking down fish and rabbits, to starting the lamb braise and making scotch eggs. Just having the whole kitchen to myself for a few hours was awesome!
AESCA: Why did you want to get in the culinary field?
LS: Anytime you can get paid to do something you love, you should jump on that. I love to cook, and people wanted to pay me to do that. So here I am!
AESCA: What do you love most about being an educator with the online program?
LS: I love sharing my industry experience with the students. There’s nothing cooks like better than swapping “war stories” about days on the line and crazy chefs we’ve worked for. So now I get to share those experiences with the next group of up-and-comers.
AESCA: What is the one ingredient you always have to have in your kitchen?
LS: Bacon fat. Like a good Southerner, I keep a mason jar of bacon fat on-hand at all times. It’s good for roasting, sauteeing, baking, and even in vinaigrettes! Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.
AESCA: What do you think online culinary education can offer students around the world?
LS: Online culinary education offers the opportunity for anyone, from anywhere, from any walk of life, with any kind of schedule to learn about culinary arts. It also offers the opportunity to learn from fellow students with varying degrees of industry experience, life experience, or cultural experiences.
AESCA: What was your biggest culinary dish triumph?
LS: Well, the one they’re still talking about is the “Turporkison”. It’s similar to a Turducken, but better. I boned out a turkey and laid it flat. Covered that with a cheddar cornbread stuffing. Then covered that with uncased jalapeno sausage. Then covered that with more stuffing. Then laid a venison backstrap in the middle. I rolled it all up, tied it, and smoked it for 6 hours. That was a Thanksgiving tailgate party to remember!
AESCA: What are your top 3 favorite ingredients to cook with right now?
LS: Right now? I have this hickory smoked salt that I’m putting in almost everything. I can’t stop using Old Bay. It’s so good. And tomatoes are about to come in season, so I’m going to go crazy with those.
We usually have one! Is there a food you hate?
Truffle oil. Gross.
AESCA: Any words of advice for people thinking about getting into the culinary arts?
LS: I always told my new cooks, “I can teach you how to cook. I can’t teach you to show up early and be excited to be here.” Punctuality and a positive attitude go so much farther than you would think.