We are a blend of our experiences and the people whom we let in to our lives. Everyone and everything influences the personal and professional product that we become. It is important to note that to whatever degree we allow it to happen – influencers are all around us – shaping and molding the cook, chef, and person that others will see.
If you were to write your story that answers the question: “ how did I become the cook or chef that I am today” – how would you answer? At Thanksgiving time it is beneficial to stop and take note, to remember those influencers and give personal thanks for their contributions to you. So, for better or worse – here are my remembrances. I would encourage you to do the same.
- Thanks to my grandmother for showing me that cooking is an act of caring, something of yourself that sends a clear message to others that you want to honor them. She also told me that when you make chicken and dumplings to make sure that you use a young chicken from the farm and to never serve day old pie.
- Thanks to my great aunt who always baked her own bread. She showed me that it’s all about the crust and baking is a process of becoming one with the dough.
- To Millie, my first boss at a local diner – she was the breakfast cook and, at the age of 15, I was the dishwasher. She would bring me over to her station when it was busy to flip pancakes, butter toast, and keep the home fries coming. This was my first introduction to “cooking” – I was hooked.
- To my parents, who during my early teenage years, both worked – leaving me at home after school to finish dinner and get it ready for the family meal. Being a latch key kid helped to formulate my interest in the kitchen.
- To Meta Bofinger, owner of the Blue Gentian Restaurant in Saranac Lake, who told me that the flavor of the food you prepare is influenced by the love that you have for the craft and the appreciation you have for the guest.
- To that Hotel GM who interviewed me for a supervisor position right out of college. He took the time to point out all that I didn’t know, said no to my application and told me to spend more time in the kitchen and gradually work my way into management. I took his advice.
- To the chef at the Buffalo Statler Hilton Hotel who accepted my application into the kitchen apprenticeship program. I learned about team and spent time in every department during my two years at the property.
- To Frank Shores who brought me on board at his restaurant in Orchard Park and showed me that to be successful in the restaurant business you have to count all the oranges and watch every penny.
- To Ed Weibrecht who hired me at his newly acquired Mirror Lake Inn even though he didn’t have an opening. He just had a good feeling about me and took a chance. He showed me that your gut feelings are important. We have maintained a strong professional relationship for 44 years. He taught me that dining in a restaurant is best when it is part of a total experience that encompasses all of the human senses.
- To Dr. Woods at Paul Smith’s College who hired me as a totaling inexperienced teacher without even asking for a resume. I spent 26 years there, finished a bachelors and masters degree, started the culinary programs, and helped to build them into prominence. I never knew that this would be part of my professional destiny.
- To Fran Peroni who was my first cooking skills teacher and later peer educator who helped me build the first culinary curriculum for Paul Smith’s College.
- To Master Chef Anton Flory for encouraging me to compete as a chef and brought me into the fold of the New England Culinary Olympic Team. More than anything else in my career – this changed and solidified my path. We competed and brought home the gold from the Culinary Olympics in Germany.
- To my teammates on the Culinary Team: Roland Czekelius, Anton Flory, Neil Connolly, Danny Varano, Michael Beriau, Joe Faria, Charles Carroll, Walter Zuromski, George Higgins, and Lars Johansson – who taught me about the power of team, the importance of honesty in critique, the dynamic of friendship, and the significance of confidence. Of course, my culinary skills improved immensely during the process.
- To Dick Marecki from Rochester Institute of Technology who convinced me to pursue a masters degree and dedicate my teaching life to relaying the importance of service economics.
- To Jim Jacobs who was a consummate teacher who frustrated the hell out of me, but showed me that growth comes from asking “why”.
- To Mary Petersen who helped me to grow my network of exceptional educators – people who always make me realize that I still have so much to learn.
- To Kenneth Weissberg who provided countless opportunities for me to visit and learn from European chefs, bakers, wine makers, cheese enthusiasts, and historians. He made the connection between French cooking and American cuisines a personal mission.
- To so many cooks and chefs – many of them former students, who always helped me to question my own abilities, taught me more than they realize, and made me so proud to say that I am a chef and a teacher. To name a few: Curtiss Hemm, Kevin O’Donnell, Tim Hardiman, Tim McQuinn, Jamie Keating, Jamie Prouten, David Frocione, John McBride, Vicky Breyette, Jarrad Lang, Jody Winfield, Kris Angle, Jennifer Beach, Rebekah Alford, Jennette Siegel, Michael Garnish, Mark Fitzgerald, Robin Schempp, Steve Schimoler and hundreds of others.
- To those who are masters of hospitality and know that service is as, if not more, important than the food that we love to prepare. Thanks to Tracey Caponera, Kristin Parker, Katie Welch, Christine McCoy, Anne Alsina, Noelle Weissberg, Brian Perry, and Wally Ganzi to name a few.
- To David Meyers for including me in his incredible placement service allowing me to work with clubs looking for that right chef to bring their brand into prominence.
- To Curtiss Hemm who encouraged me to start writing a blog. Harvest America Cues is well on the way to hitting 2 million views in the near future.
- To Jack Edwards, Alfonse Mellot, Daniel Chotard, Terry Robards, and all of my fellow wine lovers who helped to build my appreciation for the beverage made from the fruit of the vine, and the passion of the wine maker.
- To all of my consulting clients over the past eight years who helped me to grow in understanding and build on my portfolio of knowledge with each project that comes my way.
- And, of course, to my wife of 45 years, my incredible children, and pretty spectacular grandkids who humor me, put up with my flaws, and keep me centered while giving me enough space to do what I love.
I know I have left some people out – not intentional. I appreciate you and realize more and more every day that you are a part of who I am today.
Who’s on your list during this Thanksgiving week?
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast