Podcast Episode 95

Les Misfits d’Escoffier: From Culinary Class Assignments to Lifelong Friendships

Les Misfits d'Escoffier | 73 Minutes | November 7, 2023

In today’s episode, we speak with Les Misfits d’Escoffier, a small virtual meetup group of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduates from around the country.

Back in January 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these students came together with a simple goal: to help each other with assignments beyond the classroom. Since then, this small virtual community has grown, attracting more members from different corners of the country. Everyone in the group has graduated from Escoffier with honors and considers each other “family.”

Listen as Les Misfits d’Escoffier members talk about how they structured their meetings, shared resources virtually, and ultimately, found an undeniable sense of belonging.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, we’re recording a special edition episode with a small, virtual meet-up group called Les Misfits d’Escoffier – that’s right. Les Misfits d’Escoffier, comprised of August Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduates from around the country.

We’re going to keep this intro a little short and sweet so we can chat with each member of the group joining us today. But to give you a little bit of a background, les Misfits was formed by these Escoffier students back in January of 2021 with the ultimate purpose: to help each other on assignments outside of the classroom, the virtual classroom.

Since then, this informal group has expanded with more members across the country, and everyone involved has since graduated from Escoffier – with honors, I might add.

In this interactive chat today with this talented group of Escoffier grads, we’re going to explore why it’s important to build camaraderie outside of the classroom walls, how fostering a sense of belonging can enhance educational experiences, and how online connections can turn into lifelong friendships.

There they are. Welcome everybody.

Luis Rodriguez: Hello!

Geno Vento: Hello! How are you?

Alysia Van Camp: Hello! Thank you.

Kirk Bachmann: Are you guys excited?

Luis Rodriguez: Very.

Alysia Van Camp: Absolutely!

Kirk Bachmann: I’m excited, and I’m a little nervous. I’m usually speaking one on one with a person.

Alysia Van Camp: [inaudible [00:01:41] Chef Kirk!

Introducing Les Misfits

Kirk Bachmann: To have a whole group like this is quite a treat. I think it might make most sense right off the bat to go round robin-style and start with a brief introduction. Perhaps introduce yourself, where you’re calling in from, and where you are standing at the stoves these days. Should we start with Geno? He’d be disappointed if I didn’t call on him first.

Geno Vento: Sure, no problem, Chef. My name is Geno Vento, and I come from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Escoffier has helped me with my business. I have five restaurant locations with licensees, opening my sixth one in another month. Keeping the ball rolling, getting my name everywhere, and enjoying the culinary experience with Escoffier.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I heard somebody earlier say something about your photo at the airport. Are you at the airport?

Geno Vento: I have my own selfie wall at the airport.

Kirk Bachmann: We’ll get into that in a minute.


Alysia Van Camp: Well, I’m kind of in the middle of everything. I think I’m going to get into do some videos, possibly. Maybe do some ways to tailgate and make things to go out into the wilderness in your Jeep, or on a boat and prepare food, and focus on how to keep things clean. Focus on some hygiene when you’re on the water or prowling through the woods. Bringing food with you. I hate going on the boat or out in the wild and not having any good food. Everybody’s taking chips and dips and things. I like to raise that up.

I still etch on granite. I’m an artist. I paint, and I have a paint studio. Right now, trying to figure out how to encapsulate all of these ideas into some sort of cohesive bubble.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Sounds like you’re busy. You’re coming to us from the land of 10,000 lakes, is that right?

Alysia Van Camp: Yes, and I’m on one of those.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re on one of those. You’ve got the Escoffier crown above you there. Perfect timing. Nice staging there.

Alysia Van Camp: Thank you. I did create that.

Kirk Bachmann: You did! You painted that. Very nice.

Alysia Van Camp: It’s actually a chalkboard that I can erase to change that if I ever want. But I made that on the first day of school, and there it has remained.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh my goodness. I love that.

Alysia Van Camp: Now it does have my tassel. I’ve added to it.

Kirk Bachmann: I was one of the first to see you in that tassel when you graduated in Boulder.

Alysia Van Camp: That day was one of the best days of my life.

Kirk Bachmann: Beautiful. It was a beautiful day. You had the opportunity to speak. I think we had 2000 guests that day. It was not a small house.

Alysia Van Camp: It was not.

Kirk Bachmann: Natalia!

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Hi! My name is Natalia Lepore Hagan. I’m coming to you from Philadelphia where I just started my own pasta company called Midnight Pasta. I started in March, so I’m a baby company. I’m very excited about that. I’m also doing content creating. I work for Legal Sea Foods. I work with Legal Sea Foods, and I work with a small olive oil company that has small-batch olive oil from Florence. I make videos for them. I do other content creating for different small companies and bigger brands.

I just cook on screen, which is really fun, and I promote my small pasta company, which is all hand-formed and hand-rolled, small-batch pasta that is all very specific and tiny. You can come and get it at one spot, and if it’s not there, it’s not there! It’s adding a little mystique!

Kirk Bachmann: Tell us the name of the pasta company again?

Natalia Lepore Hagan: My pasta company is called Midnight Pasta.

Kirk Bachmann: Midnight Pasta.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Yes, because it’s what my family always would do. We’re Italian – American-Italian. We’d go out, and we’d go drinking, and then at night, we would come home at midnight and everybody would sit and talk about their night and eat a big gorgeous bowl of oily pasta and soak everything up. That’s where the name came from.

Kirk Bachmann: Am I the only one with chills on top of chills? This is insane. No pressure, Luis. No pressure! Come on, Buddy! Top that!

Luis Rodriguez: I’m Luis Rodriguez from Puerto Rico. Right now I’m trying to get going as a private chef and also helping any Escoffier students here on the island. Helping them out through the course.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Thank you so much. You graduated. You also served our country, right? Thank you for that.

Luis Rodriguez: Correct. Thank you very much. Thanks.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Travis, where are you buddy?

Travis Bihm: My name is Travis Bihm. I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, but pretty much, I’m kind of everywhere. I’m in Lafayette. I’m in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I’m a traveling chef, as well. I am the owner of Chef’s TB’s Experience. I cater, especially exclusive events. I do private events, private parties. I offer personal chef services as well as meal preps.

Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. Are you guys feeling this theme of entrepreneurship in every quadrant that we go into? Unbelievable! The pressure is building for Brett. Here we go.

Brett Nugent: Oh, man!

Kirk Bachmann: Come on, buddy. Come on!

Brett Nugent: Alright. It’s a long story.

Kirk Bachmann: We’ve got time.

Brett Nugent: I’ve been a hospital chef my entire career. I’ve been doing that for about eight years. When I attended Escoffier, I was managing a kitchen of about fifteen people, and then we served about 130 hospital patients a day. We fed the staff and did a lot of on-site catering, too, which is fun.

I have since then become a chef instructor. Now I teach teenagers and adults the fundamentals that I learned at Escoffier. It’s inspired me to become a private chef. Meal planning isn’t that big here in North Carolina. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to hop onto. I’d like to do private events, anniversary dinners, catering to the people that just want a good quality meal. In Charlotte, there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve been working towards that. I’ve been doing that for about three months now.

I’m actually auditioning for a chef position in Nashville, Tennessee next week at a company that does a lot of wedding venues and stuff. I think that would be really great. I’m growing. I’m growing, and I’m changing, and I love every bit of it.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. And thanks for the work you’ve done in the hospital space. We’ve probably all spent some time in a hospital, either ourselves or with a loved one. There’s opportunity there, right.

Brett Nugent: There is. Hospitals never close, so I’ve worked every single hospital imaginable, and I got to do it all through the pandemic, too. Taking care of others is a lot of work, but it was great.

Kirk Bachmann: I am so touched! We haven’t even gotten started yet. Amazing! We could stop right now, and this has been pretty good.

Brett Nugent: Best for last, coming up!

Kirk Bachmann: Congratulations! Before we dive into some other questions, I wanted to get up to the top of my screen. Chef Leigh is up there with us today. She’s an instructor with us at Escoffier, and somehow, she got talked into this little group. How are you doing, Chef?

Lleigh: I’m doing great. Thank you. I’m dialing in from Salem, Oregon, just about an hour south of Portland. I’m thrilled to be here. I had Luis, and Travis, and Geno in my last Farm to Table class that I taught before I went on to teach Culinary Foundations. It was like the icing on the cake, there, to have these guys as students, to observe their passion for what they were doing and watch their growth, and all of those things. When they asked me to be a Misfit, I was very honored. It’s been nice to watch everyone’s career develop and grow.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. What you may not know, Chef, is that you’re sitting in Salem, Oregon. I have four children, and my second baby, Kirsten, lives in West Salem with her husband, Caleb, and my two grand-babies, Clay and Rose Kennedy. She’s a physical therapist in West Salem. She’s been in that area for a long time. I went to the University of Oregon, so Oregon is a very special place.

Lleigh: It is. I love it here.

Behind the Group and the Name

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great.

Well, in the intro, everyone, I gave our listeners – and many students are going to listen. They’re going to be very, very interested. We gave a little bit of insight, just a tiny bit, on how Les Misfits d’Escoffier came to be, but I’d love you to take a deeper dive into the origin of the story here.

Luis, I know that you and Geno and Brett were sort of the founding members – guilty as charged. I’ll pass the baton to you, if you will. More than anything, can you share with our audience how and why Les Misfits started? And also the inspiration behind the name.

Luis Rodriguez: It all started with one phone call. I think either Brett called me, or I called him, and we called Geno. It was just a matter of looking for help. Some assurance. “Hey, am I doing this right? How do you send the assignment?”

Brett Nugent: Google Drive.

Luis Rodriguez: What kind of problems are you having? It just took off from there. And sometimes, we just wanted to vent. After all, Chef, a little buzz here. I did the focaccia five times.

Kirk Bachmann: You forbid anyone else to say anything about focaccia, and here you go. You get to say it. Okay.

Luis Rodriguez: I get to say it. It was a lot of calls to see how we’re doing this. A lot of assurance from each other: “Yeah, you’re going through the same problems I’m going through. Yeah, I’m not the only one going through those problems.”

The name took a little while. We didn’t want to be goody-two-shoes, to save. Too cool, hand-sitting misfits. Misfits of what? I’m a big follower of the Disciples, so we just said instead of Disciples d’Escoffier, we said, Misfits d’Escoffier.

I have to say right away, we mean no disrespect to the Disciples. We completely respect, look up to, and understand and appreciate what they stand for. No disrespect. No sarcasm or nothing. But that’s where the name came from.

Brett Nugent: Remember what you said to me, Luis?

Luis Rodriguez: No. No, I don’t.

Brett Nugent: When we first started talking, I’m very intense. Very A personality, very focused. When there’s distractions in the class or whatever going on, and I’m just sitting here like this. He goes, “Man, what is wrong with this guy over here? He’s such a stone-face. He doesn’t smile.”

I’m like, “Really? I don’t smile?” I looked back in videos, and I’m like, “Oh, you’re right.” I was having a good time, but I was so serious and engaged with everything, especially Chef Leigh. She was just amazing. A great teacher with side notes on cooking and making things, and sometimes tweaking a recipe because it wasn’t written in the right format, or whatever. She was always attention to detail and [would] always strive for us to do better.

Right, Travis, with the dumbbell?

Travis Bihm: Most definitely.

Kirk Bachmann: Brett, you were a part of that original trio as well?

Brett Nugent: I was. My early recollection of the forming of the group, Luis and I shared a class together. I think Geno did, too. It was during the pandemic. Everything is, of course, on webcams and stuff like that. There were some technical issues on Escoffier’s side, and we were all in the same room together. We were running late. It was five, ten minutes after class should have started. I was just talking with everybody, and we started reviewing the last week’s assignment and material that we should have studied.

I took the reins. I’m not one that normally does something like that. I took the reins, and I was talking to everyone via Zoom, like we’re doing now. Luis hit me up. “Hey man. You’re pretty cool. You know what you’re doing.” We just kind of hit it off from there. Let’s get a group of people together.

I told him, “It’s cool. I’m from North Carolina. I don’t have too many friends. It would be great to have some classmates who are friends.” That’s something hard to do when you’re not attending a physical university. Luis and Geno, they got us all together. Let’s form a group.

Then we became the Avengers after that. I know we’re called the Misfits, but we got a team together, and everybody started growing. There were great people in all of our classes. Luis and Geno would be like, “How about this person for our group because they’re really cool for these reasons?”

“Come on. The more the merrier.” We just kind of embraced it, and now we have a great connection of culinary students from all across the country. It’s great, because we’ve all become close friends ever since attending school together. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, for sure.

Kirk Bachmann: So well said. It feels organic, because you can’t make someone feel a certain way. We see it on the ground campus, too. People like community. People like when it’s a common theme. “We’re all going to culinary school. We should spend time together. We should learn from each other.” You’re the best student you’ll ever be when you’re a student, so why not share that love?

Particularly during a pandemic. When you think back all the way to 2021, it was a scary time. I imagine some of that camaraderie, some of that thoughtfulness of expression was comforting for all of you.

Travis Bihm: Definitely.

A Community of Camaraderie

Kirk Bachmann: Travis, why don’t you jump in there a little bit? Again, just share whatever you’d like. I’m curious: you got a group started. There’s obviously some pretty cool people, but what was it that attracted you to this group? Was it the individuals? Was it this idea of a community and you wanted to be a part of it? Were you hungry for more knowledge? What brought you to the group?

Travis Bihm: Definitely, it was the community. I feel that community is important no matter where you are. I mean, I could have gone through school and did what I needed to do alone. But in the sense of community, understanding the struggles that we all share in each assignment and all the material. When we could get together with someone, and you share the same struggles, and you try to figure things out, try to work things out. This person may have a little knowledge of this cuisine because that’s their culture, and vice versa. It just made for a great sense of community, and I think it all made us better as a group and as people.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Thank you for sharing that. I’m curious, Alysia and Natalia, how did you feel that being part of this group also supported your educational experience? Clearly, it’s probably a lot of fun to be around these guys, but how did it impact your experience? You all graduated with honors. You’ve all found unbelievable success with your careers. I’m really curious: when you were in the moment, when you were there and you were busy cooking pasta at midnight and things like that, how do you find time for a group like this, and how does it fit into the equation?

Natalia Lepore Hagan: It helped so much, honestly, because going to school online for cooking. I’m sorry to say, it kind of seems counter-intuitive. You’re looking at a screen, you’re doing it at home. The instructors, the professors, are absolutely so there for you whenever you need them. Texting, calling, it’s incredible. But there’s also this moment of camaraderie where you kind of want to say, “Hey, I’m screwing this up! What is this?” Sorry, Luis. Your focaccia. You weren’t sending that to your professor; you were sending that to us. That was so cool, though, that we could be like, “I’m screwing this up. How are you guys doing?”

I was doing some of my lessons while I was camping out in Death Valley. I was sending you guys those things. We were talking about that. We were discussing things. It was cool to be able to, on the side, text each other. “Oh, I did this this way. Oh, I didn’t do it that way.” I really loved that.

Also, I was vetted before I got in this group, by the way. They literally. They gave me an interview! They interviewed me. I called my mom, and I was like, “There’s this group-

Kirk Bachmann: Is that even legal? Are they allowed to do that, Leigh? Oh my God, that’s brilliant!

Alysia Van Camp: I was no part of the vetting process.

Bbrett? Geno and Luis did all the recruiting. They just told me, “Hey, we got somebody. They’re blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” I was like, “Man, sounds awesome. Let’s roll.”

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Also, we’d met each other, too, which was really cool. We’ve all taken the time to see each other in different places. I went down to Louisiana, and Travis and I became so close. Now he knows my brother.

Kirk Bachmann: No way, that’s amazing!

Geno Vento: I flew out to Puerto Rico to see Luis, and Brett I saw over the weekend at his family’s house and everything. I’m still waiting on Travis and Alysia, whenever I get that invite. Me and Natalia were hanging out with my husband, and we toured the town, the food, the restaurants, some of the bars and stuff. We get to hang out and talk and see everybody.

Kirk Bachmann: The story just keeps getting better and better. You know, you’re all invited to Boulder as well. If you’re ever in Colorado, come this way. Or Austin, Texas, for that matter, and see our-

Alysia Van Camp: My stepdaughter lives in Colorado Springs.

Kirk Bachmann: Which is less than three hours from here.

Luis Rodriguez: We’re going to Oregon next year to see Chef Leigh.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it.

Travis Bihm: Can I insert something? I just want to also say about the community of Les Misfits d’Escoffier. While we were going through a pandemic, I also experienced even more tragedy. We had hurricanes down here like crazy. I tell you, this group of individuals was so supportive, every last one of them, especially Geno. Geno called me, made sure if I needed anything, food, whatever. Even if I needed to relocate for a few. He offered to fly me out and everything. I just want to send a big shout out to you guys. I truly and genuinely love you from the bottom of my heart. You guys were a great support system during that time. I had a double dose of drama going on beside the pandemic. We were dealing with hurricanes down here. We didn’t have power for a few days and stuff like that. We got through it. With the help of Chef Leigh and this group, you guys were very supportive and I’m truly grateful.

A Special Chef Mentor

Kirk Bachmann: So well said, and recorded now. We’ll be sharing that with the world.

Let’s go back up to Chef Leigh. It’s so clear how this group feels about you and your leadership. I’m curious what your role in the group was when you first started, and how has that transformation continued today?

Lleigh: I think when I was asked to join the group, it was because I had a sense of camaraderie with the three students that I mentioned earlier. You mentioned earlier about getting goosebumps about something when Natalia was talking about the pasta. I would look at their assignments or hear what they had to say in class and have a visceral response to that because I was so moved by their passion and what they were doing. I think that’s how I entered the group. I would say, as a friend.

Kirk Bachmann: Did they interview you as well? Or did you get a pass on that?

Geno Vento: We asked her a couple questions.

Kirk Bachmann: You guys, you’re bad.

Geno Vento: I have to say, Chef, the knowledge and amount of caringness towards the teachers – because I’ve worked in a lot of places, met a lot of chefs – the fact that they want you to succeed is so overwhelming. They’re there every step of the way. If you have questions, emails. I didn’t wait more than a half a day, 24 hours at most, without someone getting back to me. But out of all the chefs, Chef Leigh just had a special place in my heart. She really cared. She gave you honest feedback. If things didn’t go right – I know my brown roux didn’t come out right. I had to call Chef Travis to see what he wanted me to do to do it. I could have just gotten the grade that she gave me, but it wasn’t good enough. She pushed me to do it over, and I learned what I did wrong. When I make it now, I know the difference between the dark roux and my broken roux, basically. If it wasn’t for Chef Leigh, I would have been like, “oh, whatever. I’ll just accept it.” She just pushed me, and she didn’t tell me to do it; she encouraged me to make me want to do it. The chefs that you have at the school are nothing but exceptional.

A Bucket List Item for a Chef Bubbles

Kirk Bachmann: So kind! It’s a gift that Chef Leigh has, this ability to make you want to be better. To do better.

Alysia, I’m going to come your way here. I’m curious from a technology perspective, what was the evolution of the call? Did it start out with a Zoom session, or did you start FaceTiming? What was the frequency of the meetings?

Alysia Van Camp: How I met the Misfits?

Kirk Bachmann: And how you continue? I think what blows me away the most is moments in time are pretty achievable. “Hey, let’s all get together and talk about this, that, the other.” But to continue. Here we are, years after you have finished your programs, and you’re building your empires, and you’re moving in different directions. And here you are, all together, chatting with me. There’s got to be something more than just a Zoom session.

Alysia Van Camp: I’m an only child. I’ve never had siblings, and I’m probably not the best at staying in contact and initiating a lot of things. But I always know they are right there. They’re just a text away. I jump in, and I think about them all the time. I’m always thinking of things. What can we do? What can I do? How can I get down to see them?

I just got married in December. I always have something going on. Now my schedule’s clear.

Kirk Bachmann: Congratulations!

Alysia Van Camp: Thank you. I’m hoping that this fall that I can start traveling. I met Luis and Geno in Chef Stephanie’s Culture Club – Club Hub, not Culture Club. That’s a different band.

Brett Nugent: Love that band.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re talking my genre. That’s old school.

Alysia Van Camp: I don’t know if we made baklava or sushi, but I got out of that session, got onto Facebook, and see Geno Vento sent me a friend request. “This has to be a hacked profile. It can’t be the real Geno Vento.”

Geno Vento was a bucket list item, to go and try the two Philly-style across the street, after watching Food Network back in the day. It was actually a bucket list item for me, and now he’s a buddy!

Kirk Bachmann: How do you feel about that, Geno? Have you ever been called a bucket list item before? I kind of like it.

Geno: I was honored, but I was shocked. Really, of all the places? She’s like, “No. One that’s on our radar for years and the fact that I know you.”

I’m like, “Whenever you’re in town, call me! I will rearrange the schedule. I have to have you sit inside my VIP booth. I’ll get you on the grill, make a cheesesteak, this and that.”

She’s like, “Deal!”

Kirk Bachmann: This is insane. I’ve got to get everybody’s social media handles and all this stuff. This is crazy.

Alysia Van Camp: I’m the ADD one of the bunch. I’ve got severe ADD, always doing different things, painting. I’m honing it in now. I’m picking the best things out of everything, and just hone it in.

Geno Vento: We nickname Alysia, “Chef Bubbles.” She’s always bubbly happy, always smiling. Even when putting assignments together or cooking something, she’s got a smile on her face. It’s like everything is just like, “Okay. I’ll do it. La, la, la.”

Alysia Van Camp: I was behind you guys. We weren’t even in the same class or anything.

Kirk Bachmann: I’ll send you the video. She got up. Usually I own the microphone, especially at graduation. She got up there, and I’m like, “Okay, give me the microphone back. Give me the microphone back.”

Brett Nugent: That’s what made her so fun within our group. She’s got the name Chef Bubbles for a reason. We didn’t share a class together, but I really wish I would have because.

Geno Vento: Then again, I don’t know how much work we would have gotten done.

Alysia Van Camp: You need to come up in the summer and in the winter.

Brett Nugent: I’m not coming up for ten feet of snow.

Support Beyond Cohort

Kirk Bachmann: I think I know the answer to this one. It started out as really collaborating on your school work. I think that was the genesis of this. But I think I have my answer here, but it became – I don’t want to say it became informal, but it became conversational. Did you find yourselves talking to each other about life? About pets?

Luis Rodriguez: I can answer that one. I was thinking about this this morning. I think it has progressed beyond that. I think more than just friendship. These guys are like family right now. We’ve called each other with different problems, whether they’re personal problems or professional problems. We’ve talked to each other – gosh – about everything. We’ve become family. We’ve been there to support each other through illnesses, through all kinds of things.

Way beyond the professional part, the culinary part, we talk about a lot of other things. I know Geno and I talk a lot. We always end up with “What are you cooking tonight?” That’s the last part.

Geno Vento: That sounds better than my dinner.

Alysia Van Camp: There will be a cookbook coming out. There will be a collaborative cookbook at some point.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s brilliant.

Alysia Van Camp: I’m sorry. Chef Leigh, I hear about you all the time. I’m very sad that I did not have the opportunity to have you, but I loved all of my instructors, every one of them. I still try to stay in contact.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the part that’s so fascinating. I can fully understand if it’s one cohort. Leigh, you’ve probably seen this, certain cohorts, they just mesh. You weren’t all in the same class, if I’m understanding this correctly, and that’s what’s unbelievable.

Geno Vento: When we went from one semester, or the end of the classes, we were hoping that we were going to all be in our classes. I forget, was it term three, we were like, within one class of each other. We would be in class, and then texting each other, “Which Chef do you have? What assignment are you on?” And we would start talking.

Brett Nugent: So we were in a group text together, and fortunately, all of us had iPhones in the group text, which is great. We FaceTimed each other. We just kind of hung out a few times. I know a certain somebody – I’m not going to say any names – but a certain somebody was cooking some rice, and some little critters came out of there. We were all cooking together. We’re on this FaceTime Zoom, and it was the most hilarious thing. That’s why you always wash your rice because you don’t know where it’s coming from.

Luis Rodriguez: We won’t mention Natalia’s face?

Brett Nugent: It’s really what kept us together.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Thank you.

Escoffier and Belonging

Kirk Bachmann: I was going to come to Natalia anyway. This is a perfect lead in. I promise that Brett and I didn’t set this up. It seems appropriate now. Each of you is located in a different part of the country, so there’s different time zones. I’m curious: you mentioned you were in Death Valley for a bit of cooking. I’m curious how challenging, or how the obstacle that you saw as time differences and location differences, how did you overcome that? How did you make that a positive?

Natalia Lepore Hagan: I personally loved Escoffier for this reason. Because I travel all the time and my husband travels all the time. For me, it was so incredible to have this program where all I needed was my computer. I could be anywhere, all over the country, in the desert, in my home in Philly. I was also living in New York at the same time. I was traveling in between New York and Philly, and then going out, traveling for fun.

That was incredible, because I could turn in my projects whenever I needed to. I could get to a computer and I knew exactly when my classes were going to be. It was probably the most incredible thing about going to culinary school here, was that reason. I could, at any time, at any place, do a project.

These guys kept me on it all the time. I think also something that is really interesting about this group of friends is that we all really cared a lot. I think that’s why we all got together. I love that you said that we all graduated with honors. We’re all really proud of that. I don’t want to say that we were half doing. We were all actually giving 100 percent to everything, and that’s why we all clicked, and I think that’s why we all found each other. That’s what’s so cool about this program.

Kirk Bachmann: You guys were leaning in. This will be really funny. Were you guys competitive? And if you were, who was at the top of that podium.

Geno Vento: Luis.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: I feel like everybody was so complimentary of each other.

Geno Vento: We would cheer each other on.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Oh my gosh, so much! We would send our plating. It was so good.

Kirk Bachmann: Such a good answer. Such a good answer.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Everybody loved each other. We would be like, “That’s gorgeous! That’s beautiful! You’re doing so good.” It was so cool.

Kirk Bachmann: You all did the work.

Geno Vento: Plating, in the beginning, was horrible because I grew up Italian-style, and everything was family. I didn’t have to do plating. Natalia and Luis helped me out amazingly. I never liked my food touching. They taught me how to marry the food to make it coexist, we’ll say.

Kirk Bachmann: This is open to anyone. This is an extended question. We recently had Dr. Terrell Strayhorn on the podcast. He’s an American scholar and a college professor. He authored a book called, “College Students’ Sense of Belonging.” I have a couple of quotes from his book.

He says, “Belonging with peers, in the classroom or on campus, is a crucial part of the college experience. It can affect a student’s degree of academic achievement, or even whether they stay in school or not.”

When he was on the podcast, he mentioned to me, and I quote, “Building a sense of belonging is a feeling that reflects the extent to which people feel connected to others, that they feel cared about, that they feel they play an important role in the group, and that their contributions are valued.” Let me stop there. There’s a lot there to unpack.

I’d love to see, to the floor, how that resonates with you? How has Les Misfits created a sense of belonging for each of you individually?

Luis Rodriguez: I think everybody has a longing for belonging. Everybody wants to be a part of a group. Personally, in the military, they teach you this sense of unity, teamwork, from Day One. Here, because we found each other, like Natalia said. I don’t think any one of us wanted to coast. Not a single one of us wanted to, “I did the focaccia four times, five times. I’m just gonna -”

Kirk Bachmann: Here we go with focaccia.

Luis Rodriguez: We wanted to be the best, and because of that, we pushed each other. I think we made it easier to get through the course than by ourselves. We really meshed together. We really bonded in a way. We were never sarcastic. We were never mean to each other. We wanted to elevate each other. We wanted to help. Like Natalia said, each one of us had – I won’t say expertise – but we were good at this, we were good at that. We helped each other with that. Because there were eight of us, it really helped. Belonging to a group really, really helped.

Kirk Bachmann: Are you all naturally extroverts? Is this something that surprised any of you, that you were drawn to a group like this?

Luis Rodriguez: Alysia is the extrovert here. We’re kind of introverts, all of us.

Kirk Bachmann: Bubbles, yes.

Luis Rodriguez: Chef Leigh and Alysia, they are the extroverts.

Alysia Van Camp: I admit it.

Lleigh: I’m definitely an introvert.

Geno Vento: I’m an extrovert.

Luis Rodriguez: I’m an extrovert.

Geno Vento: But I have to say one thing I don’t miss is Travis’s, “Chef, I’ve got a question.” And then it would go into a story. He is the best storyteller. He gives it personality, his hand gestures. Oh my God! We would just be laughing up a storm.

Luis Rodriguez: And there goes the thirty minutes.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Can I say something?

Kirk Bachmann: Yes. Yes, please.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: I just wanted to go back to what you were saying about the sense of community. I think that my experience at Escoffier was so incredible, but this enriched it so much. If there are students that are listening to this, I would encourage them to do what we did. The way to do that is to use the tools that Escoffier gave us. The little ways to start communicating with each other. We have a chat. You have a chat room. I made a lot of other friends, too. Oh, I saw that wink. I saw that nod. And messaging them.

Reach out, because people want to communicate. They want to have a moment like this. If you’re a student and you have that chance, don’t be shy. Everybody wants you to reach out to them. Be that person, and make that connection, because the connection does matter so much. Meeting people and having this community works so well and helps you do so well and expand as a human being and as a chef.

Kirk Bachmann: Can we put everything you just said on TikTok over and over and over again? I mean, just a beautiful summary.

Brett: Don’t be afraid to. I feel like a lot of people are afraid to communicate. It’s like you get one person that reaches out to another person. “Hey, we share the same interest. Let’s talk about this stuff.”

Kirk Bachmann: It’s a great point, Brett. If you look at education in general, when you become an adult learner, the challenge is that self esteem is on the table. If you ever watch a classroom of eighth graders or fifth graders, and the teacher asks a question, every hand goes up, especially the boys in the room. They don’t know the answer, but they like the attention. They’ll make something up.

When you’re an adult learner, it’s stressful. Self esteem is on the line. You may know the answer, but you may be hesitant to share the answer, because “What will people think if I get it wrong?” That kind of thing.

Natalia needs to run.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Sorry!

Kirk Bachmann: No, don’t apologize. Thank you for joining us. We will keep your photo in the final edit for the duration. Thank you for joining us.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: I’m so sorry. This has been so incredible. I’m so sorry. But they, I’m sure, can tell you that my ultimate dish will have something to do with pasta. Whatever their imagination is!

Brett Nugent: Her pasta is the best pasta ever. I swear, Midnight Pasta is so legit and so delicious. Oh. That’s all I use is Midnight Pasta.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it.

Natalia Lepore Hagan: Look at that. Thank you. I’m sorry I have to leave.

Kirk Bachmann: No worries whatsoever. Take care.

Geno Vento: Chef Kirk, can I add some to this?

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Please!

Pushing Past Perfectionism

Geno Vento: I know for me, the classes humbled me a little. I figured every time, every week I got an assignment, I was going to do it perfect, every time. I really enjoyed making the mistakes sometimes because it made me focus more on the recipe. Anybody can read a recipe, but when you follow the steps or maybe you miss something because you were over-reading it. A few times, Chef Leigh would say, “Geno, did you do this? Why don’t we try it this way?” And I would go back.

For the students out there, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because the more mistakes you make, the better chef you’re going to be, because you’re going to learn from them and grow. That was the biggest thing I got out of school. “Oh my God! If I’m going to cook, I have to do everything perfect.” A certain chef on this table over here saw me differently. I cook differently now.

It was definitely like you’re here to make mistakes. This is your testing ground. Think of it as America’s Test Kitchen; [not] every recipe is going to come out perfect. There’s going to be bloopers. I learned with the class, and especially with these guys – these guys were like Luis said, family. We would bounce ideas off and everything. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Maybe you mise en place and you forgot one or two ingredients, you had to do it real fast. Things will happen, but just believe in yourself and things will grow.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. I’m going to make Leigh blush a little bit again here. What’s really touching is how much respect you have for the mentorship that you received from Chef Leigh. That’s not easy, to impact people across the country in different cohorts, different time zones, with different ambitions and such. From watching the way she mentored you, how important is it to each of you to mentor your next generation of cooks coming up behind you?

Travis Bihm: Oh, I would say definitely. It’s very important. Chef Leigh was so thorough. I’m going to be honest with you. This is the kind of cook I used to be. I used to be the kind of cook where, especially in culinary school, I was somewhat a perfectionist, wanted to get it right. I will beat myself up. When she got to me, for some reason, I felt a sense of sereneness come over me. “Travis, you don’t have to do this. You just do what you love to do. You love to cook. You love to feed people. You love to prepare food. Just go ahead and do what you do, and everything will fall in place.”

And of course, Chef Leigh was right there, taking it step by step. She would tap me on the hand in a sense and would say, “You need to fix this. You need to fix that. I’d like to see this, and I’d like to see that.” And yes, I would beat myself up about it, but at the end of the day – like Geno said – it makes for a better chef. You’re not perfect. You’re not going to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Get into communities that will support you, like the group that we have. All that can help you to become a better chef, a better cook, a better person, and just a well-rounded individual, in my opinion.

When You’re a Chef

Kirk Bachmann: Really well said. I was going to throw a little story in there. Some of you might know that personally, I’m fourth generation. My father is 87 now. He is still baking in his home kitchen and such. He’s a master pastry chef by European standards, came to America in the ‘60s. One thing that he said to me 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and I’ve always taken it with me because we have a lot of students that come our way that are really concerned about being a chef. They’re really concerned about the label. They’re really concerned about what other people think. My father has always said to me, “Just focus on being a great cook for life.” Focus on being a great cook for life. Then everything else will take care of itself.

Number one question that I’ve always had in my years of running culinary schools is students always want to know when they’re going to be a chef. It was a question I posed to my father as well. His simple response was, “You’re a chef when other people call you a chef.” So don’t put that pressure on yourselves, right.

Alysia Van Camp: When you’re in the field and you’re cooking, it’s when your counterparts start calling you chef.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. As long as your paycheck says “chef” on it, everything’s good.

Brett Nugent: At the end of the day, it is. Absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: Are you guys all still okay with time? I know we’re going over? We’re officially longer than any other podcast has been. Good. I’ve got a few more questions.

Brett Nugent: Excuse me, Chef, I’m sorry. Can I kind of piggy-back off what you’ve been talking about? Acknowledgement and stuff like that.

I’m a chef instructor now. I have teenagers calling me “Chef” and stuff. Prior to that, I was a sous chef and stuff like that, but nobody would ever acknowledge me as Chef Brett. For the last couple of months, everybody’s been doing that, and it’s a bit surreal at times. I tell people, “You just call me Brett, because at the end of the day, I’m me. I’m Brett Nugent. Let’s work together. Let’s teach. Let’s learn.” It’s the greatest thing ever. I don’t need any sort of validation or anything like that. It’s nice to hear; I’m not going to lie. It is nice to hear. “Chef Brett.” It has a nice ring to it.

When you’re in the trenches with someone, and you knock out a service, and you’re in the grinder and stuff, that’s where I feel like a cook becomes a chef. If you can lead someone and give them direction into the overall success of whatever culinary adventure you’re on, that makes you a chef.

Kirk Bachmann: I think we all appreciate your humility, but Brett, also know that you’ve earned it. You’re not suggesting that you’re standing in front.

Brett Nugent: But in my work, we all have. All of us misfits, we all have. What makes Misfits d’Escoffier so special is that we’re special in our own ways. We come from all these different backgrounds, but we all have the same goal: being the best chef that we can be. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. You could be a hotel chef. You could be a short order cook. You could be a digital creator, or you could be running some awesome six-course menu personal dining thing which commands hundreds of dollars for a meal a night. There’s all different levels of chef.

What is great is that we’ve all found that within ourselves, and that’s what brings us together. We all offer something different. If I were to go and hang out with Chef Travis today, I would be his student because I’m in his field, and that’s what makes him special. I’ll just be taking notes the entire time.

I’m just an avid learner. I’m always going to be learning how to cook until the day I die. What makes me special is that I feel that I can cook anything, but I don’t specialize in any particular style. I’m just trying to get a grasp on every culture’s cuisine and being able to execute when called upon. That’s my goal as a chef. It’s just so fascinating to know all these other misfits here and what’s making them special. This is the best thing, for me, about our group because everyone is extraordinary in their own way.

Chef Leigh, she’s an instructor. I’m an instructor! That’s like being able to handle students and talk to students as they are students. That’s a whole special trait all on its own. Being able to cook is one thing, but being able to teach people how to cook is entirely another. I tip my hat off to her. It’s great, what we have together as a team. It’s the best.

Purposes and Advice

Kirk Bachmann: I’m glad you took the day off today, Brett.

You guys have all clearly gone the extra mile, not only in the group that you formed, but you’ve created a logo, and shirts, and aprons, and certificates for your members. You run an Instagram page. Can someone talk a little bit about the Instagram page and where that content comes from? Are there boundaries? Is it open to all? And along those same lines, when you’re talking about how this has come together, it’s going to serve as a blueprint for the next group of misfits. People are going to be inspired by what you’ve accomplished, and maybe even envious of the beautiful friendships. That’s mission accomplished. In addition to talking a little bit about your social media presence and how you orchestrate that, maybe even a few thoughts on advice for the next Misfit group. What would that be?

Luis Rodriguez: First of all, the Instagram page. I wanted to create a place where we could showcase our talents, where we could showcase what we’ve done, how we’re progressing, and also our businesses or whatever that we are creating. Is it open? Yes, of course it’s open to all of us Misfits and there’s no rules. Basically, people send me stuff, and I just put it up. They give me the description of what to say, and we post it up.

As far as people coming behind us, they need to understand that in order to succeed, you can do it by yourself, but you’re going to need some help. We’re not meant to be alone. They need to get together, find people that are like-minded, and most definitely find a mentor. We were very lucky, extremely lucky, that we got Chef Leigh with us. She mentored us through the very end. They need to find people that are like-minded that can get together, and they have a purpose.

The Misfits gave me a purpose to graduate with honors. Then afterwards, once we got into the professional side, it helped me to validate what I was doing. A lot of times, me being probably the young one – not because of the hair, but because of the amount of time in the industry – I didn’t know how a line worked! I would call these guys at the end of my shift at midnight. “Do you know what happened? Is this the right thing?” I would call Chef Leigh sometimes. If I have problems, I’ll ask her for advice and how to act. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have been lost. Completely. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my food in the door. It was great having the Misfits together.

People need to find a group. It will do them a lot of good. And a mentor.

Kirk Bachmann: How about you, Travis?

Travis Bihm: My advice would be, if you’re accepted into Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, my advice would be to really delve into the subject matter. If this is something that you want to do, I believe this is the school to do it. This school has a phenomenal support system [unlike] any other school that I’ve attended, and I’ve been to college. When you go to university college, there’s no support like this from instructors, other students that are willing to have open-door policies, teachers, even the staff at Escoffier. I would say delve into the subject matter, take advantage of every opportunity just to really ask questions. Anything. Do not hesitate. They will help you.

Also, once again, piggy-backing off of Luis, definitely find that sense of community. The Misfits, we found each other, each of our spirits. I feel like all of our spirits were attracted to each other. We just formed a beautiful group of people from all shades, all backgrounds. You know what? We did what we had to do, and we became family. I think that’s the key to anyone’s survival in any atmosphere that you go into.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m on the page right now. Who’s responsible for the braised chicken thighs, white wine, tomatoes and mushrooms? Very nice. Very nice.

Brett Nugent: He’s also responsible for the focaccia.

Kirk Bachmann: Hey, Chef Leigh, how proud are you of this group?

Lleigh: You know, I was thinking about that before our meeting today. I worked as a private chef for fifteen years. The children of the guy that I worked for were very interested in what I did in the kitchen and wanted to learn. I’ve really loved not only teaching them how to do some cooking or how to break down a fish or that sort of thing, but watching their palates develop.

I can kind of relate that to what I’m doing here at Escoffier as an instructor. Like I said earlier, I get to see people grow and develop as chefs. I don’t know how much I’m proud; I’m impressed. To me, if I say I’m proud – I don’t know. We’re all on the same level. I learned from my students when they were in my class, probably just as much as they learned from me. Maybe I was learning about something different. Super impressed.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the ultimate compliment. Bravo. Well said.

Travis Bihm: Chef, can I say something to Brett for just a second? Brett, about you saying about you being called “Chef,” let me tell you something. Brett, I don’t know what was going on, but let me tell you. I don’t know what it is when you walk into an establishment, and you have culinary education versus the other people. They feel some kind of way about it. They’re intimidated and everything! At one time, even the person who hired me was intimidated by me. It was really, really crazy. But you know what? I think, when you hear that word “Chef” for the first time, it hits you, and you just feel some type of way.

Brett Nugent: It does.

Travis Bihm: When I tell you, you got that compliment from a person who’s been in the industry, and that’s the chef [of] 30 years, and called me Chef. Let me tell you, nothing could damper my day. Nothing could rain on my parade after that. I got the compliment from somebody who’s been in this thing longer than me, and they actually have the education that I have. That was the best compliment I could have gotten, ever.

Brett Nugent: That’s a beautiful thing. IT makes you feel better when you’re called that the first time, especially from someone as dignified as that person was. That makes you feel like you’ve made it. “Wow! I have made it. I went through the culinary school. I had this experience in the industry. You know what? I am something. I am that chef. I am Chef Brett Nugent, for sure.” It’s beautiful. It’s really rewarding for all your hard work that you put in and everything.

I’m telling you, Travis, if I ever come to visit you in Louisiana, I’m going to be your student. That is ten out of ten every time.

Travis Bihm: Well, come on. I’ll be waiting [for] you.

Brett Nugent: We all know how to cook, man. Chef Travis made the most beautiful final presentation ever. He made this gumbo with this rice, and there was crab there and the crab claw was hanging out. Oh my God, it was so beautiful. I was like, “Okay! I’m not as strong of a chef as Travis is.”

It’s all about having humility and everything.

Travis Bihm: Exactly. Exactly.

Brett Nugent: We’re all great for some reason, but we’re all still human and we’re all still learning. It’s just about paying homage to people that deserve it. Each one of us deserves it in our own way.

Keeping Up with the Real World

Travis Bihm: That’s right. Yep. Because I’m looking at some people’s work that I thought was better than mine. I’ve looked at some work that I thought was better than mine. Whatever. I just feel like, if you stop learning, you cease to exist. You have to continue having that open mind about learning everything. One thing about culinary, it’s a continuous thing; it’s always continuing trends, updating all kinds of things. We have to stay abreast of all these things.

Kirk Bachmann: Can I just say to each of you, to a person, you’re well-spoken, you’re thoughtful, you’re kind. I spend a lot of time trying to ensure that we live up to our mission at the school, and our vision, our North Star, is well articulated to everyone. But I’m different after having listened to all of you today. I feel some sense of emotion, validation, that we’re getting this right. I just want to thank you each for that. Chef Leigh, thank you for keeping them in their lanes.

Brett Nugent: I wish I had Chef Leigh as an instructor. Absolutely.

Alysia Van Camp: I think a lot of the culinary education really kicks in during externship, in the dish pit with the executive chef on Mothers’ Day. I never worked so hard. It was brutal! That executive chef. Everybody else was running in the kitchen, and the executive chef had to actually get in there and do dishes, too. I had to keep up with him. At the end, he shook my hand, and he was like, “You did awesome.” I felt like it’s not just the cooking. It’s not just making sauces. It’s supporting guys on the grill, making sure they’re getting their pans so they can cook, getting covered in slime and everything else to support the kitchen staff. You’ve got to be humble, and you’ve got to work hard.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re not supposed to make the host cry. You’re not supposed to make the host cry.

Luis Rodriguez: I’ll tell you one little quick story. I’ve got to jump off real quick. Two years ago I was in a restaurant with Chef Antonio. For Christmas or New Year’s, we had this huge dinner: tasting menu, eight different dishes, first time plating like that. I was super excited. I pressed my jacket. Good to go. Showed up to work, and the dishwasher didn’t show up.

So everybody looked around. “Yeah. I’m the junior guy.” Take my jacket off, and get in there. It was like 85 covers, eight dishes. Everyone was bringing me glasses of champagne. “Get them away from me. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to talk to you.” But you have to do what you have to do.

But if it had not been for what we learned at the school, there is no way I could have made the first week or two at a high-volume restaurant. I’ve told every single one of these guys, if it had not been for the school, I could have never made it. I would have been so lost.

Alysia Van Camp: Chef Green [01:03:35] said, “Make those dishes the cleanest dishes they’ve ever seen.” Went in there with that attitude.

Ultimate Dishes from a Bunch of Misfits

Kirk Bachmann: Luis, do you have to jump? If so, before you jump, we’ve sort of come to the end. You know that the name of the podcast is the Ultimate Dish, so I cannot let you go until we either, in unison or one at a time, share what the ultimate dish is. So Luis, you go first.

Luis Rodriguez: I’ll go first since I’ve got to get going. Anything savory, cassoulet. French cassoulet. You serve that to me any day and I’ll be happy.

Kirk Bachmann: You got my attention. Thanks for joining. Thank you, Luis. Take care.

Alright, Alysia. Ultimate dish.

Alysia Van Camp: My ultimate dish is not any dish in particular. It’s what I create either with my husband or my friends, where we come up with something together. I can show them or they can show me, and we get to sit down and share it. That’s always my ultimate dish because I never want to eat the same thing twice. My ultimate dish is something I make with someone I love or someone that I’m friends with. That’s always my ultimate dish. Always.

Kirk Bachmann: And that’s a perfect response.

Alysia Van Camp: Didn’t mean it to be perfect, but-

Kirk Bachmann: It can be! It can be.


Alysia Van Camp: It comes from the heart.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.

Geno Vento: I would have to say my dish, I’m more of a comfort and Italian. I would have to go with maybe a stuffed meatloaf with creamy cheese mac or mashed potatoes. Or even go as simple as a chicken parm with some pasta and a tiramisu at the end.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. You’ve thought about this a little bit. Nicely done.

Geno Vento: I might make it tonight!

Kirk Bachmann: Brett, how about you?

Brett Nugent: One of my favorite things to create is actually focaccia. I know we have a running joke within our group. But what I do, I take the focaccia and I turn it into pizza. I make a vodka sauce for the top of the focaccia., so after I’ve baked the focaccia, and it’s beautiful and ready to eat, I’ll make a vodka sauce, and then put that on top of it. Throw that back in the oven just for a few minutes. I call it the vodka focaccia. It is one of the best deep dish pizzas you’ll ever eat.

A side note: I hate spinach. I hate cooked spinach, but a couple of my friends have been wanting me to make creamed spinach for them. I used to do it at the hospital that I worked in. I have become an expert in making creamed spinach. I eat it every time I cook it. Honest to God, I truly do not like cooked spinach. It’s the perfect dish for a side of steak or some hearty protein. Creamed spinach. I make a bechamel, and then throw in a bunch of cheese, squeeze out the spinach to where there’s no water in it. You add it back in. Sometimes you can put a crumb topping on it. It’s phenomenal. I actually low-key enjoy creamed spinach.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s a story of success right there. You’re making-

Brett Nugent: But I could cook a sweet potato, yes. But let me tell you: the number one vegetable in North Carolina is the sweet potato, and I can make the best sweet potato casserole. Mashed sweet potatoes. That was my one goal in living here as a chef, is to make the best version of the sweet potato because it’s my state’s number one vegetable.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Leigh, Chef Leigh, what’s your ultimate dish?

Lleigh: If I’m cooking for other people, it’s quite different than what it is if I’m just preparing food for myself. If you all were going to come to my house for dinner, I would make rack of lamb with young peas and whatever green vegetables [are] in season. For me, my ultimate dish is perfect – and I always say perfect is boring, but I don’t mean it – the perfect summer tomato. Thick-sliced, on a plate with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I’m as happy as I can be.

Geno Vento: Simplest.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Is anyone surprised by Chef Leigh’s response? No.

Alysia Van Camp: No.

Kirk Bachmann: Brilliant. Brilliant.

Geno Vento: I can’t wait to hear what Travis is going to say.

Kirk Bachmann: Alright, bring us home!

Geno Vento: Bring us home, Travis.

Kirk Bachmann: Bring us home.

Travis Bihm: All right. I would have to say that the ultimate dish, for me, would have to be anything savory. A dish that’s a labor of love. Of course, in my opinion, that would be a dish that would be considered a dish where you build flavor. Several of those dishes can be that, but just to please Geno, I’m going to say gumbo. Yeah, I know how to make it several different ways. The original gumbo was made of wood okra, but I know how to do it all. I know how to do the okra gumbo. I know how to do the Creole gumbo. I know how to do it all.

Kirk Bachmann: What’s your favorite place to get gumbo in New Orleans?

Travis Bihm: Without a doubt, Pêche.

Kirk Bachmann: Very nice.

Travis Bihm: And let me tell you, there’s a lot of gumbo in Louisiana, in New Orleans for sure. Let me tell you something. I will say this. That gumbo comes about as close as it possibly can to my gumbo. And why I’m saying that is because my gumbo is a generational gumbo. That gumbo came down from my great-grandmother. It was passed down through the family, and everybody put their spin on it and made it better. Where we are right now, that is the gumbo I take. That’s the one that’s as close as possible.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

This has been absolutely so much fun. I can’t thank you all enough for joining us on The Ultimate Dish.

Geno Vento: Thank you for having us, Chef.

Brett Nugent: Chef, can I add something real quick?

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Of course.

Brett Nugent: I was chef at the hospital for a while. We needed to make gumbo one week for a catering event. You know where I’m going, Travis.

Travis Bihm: I know where you’re going.

Brett Nugent: I text him. “Hey man. I’m doing a catering. Can you give me some pro tips on some gumbo?” Being us, as friends in the group that we are, it was no problem for him. I called him up. We were on the phone for like two hours. It was nothing for pro tips. They teach you the fundamentals in school and stuff like that. Travis was like, “Listen. If you’re going to do it like this, then you’ve got to do it like that.” Those are the things that you can’t get from a textbook. This is what makes our group so special. Whenever we’re dealing with a different culture’s food and having to cook it, I’ll hit up one of my chefs. I’m in the Southeast. If I want to make cheesesteaks or pasta in the Northeast, I’ll hit up Geno and Natalia. If I’m going Creole, I got Travis there. And then we’ve got Minnesota, and then we have Washington, and Luis in Puerto Rico. We have all these different regions of food. I think what makes a country special, whatever region in the world they are, is their cuisine. We have the diversity within our culinary group to execute things.

I specialize in barbecue, sweet potatoes, soul food. I legit can cook soul food up the wazoo. We’ll all interact with each other. “Hey, man. How do you do this?” We’re all willing to say, “Look, this is what you’ve got to do.” We’re all family. We’ve got the family. It’s been three years since we started this group. I was able to see Geno over the past weekend. I told him, “We’ve been friends for three years now and we’re all still growing.” It’s beautiful, the friendship that all of us have. That’s what has made Escoffier great, and I am forever appreciative to it.

Kirk Bachmann: So well said, Brett. Appreciate that very much. This won’t be the last you hear of us. We’re going to have to get this group together frequently. I’ve got some ideas.

Geno Vento: We can start our reunion tour.

Alysia Van Camp: I’ve got an idea. We’ll do a Zoom culinary paint party.

Kirk Bachmann: There you go.

Brett Nugent: I’m down for that. Wine and design.

Kirk Bachmann: Keep in mind we’re here in Boulder. We have Austin. We have different events that go on across the nation throughout the year. I have all your emails now, so beware. I will get that video to you from graduation. You all need to see that.

Thank you so much, and we’ll absolutely be in touch. We’ll give you a heads-up when this particular episode airs.

Alysia Van Camp: Thank you so much!

Kirk Bachmann: Appreciate all of you.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.

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