Johnson & Wales culinary arts students recently had the chance to cook with JWU and Top Chef Season 9 alum Lindsay Autry. Short Order sat in through the chopping, mixing, and prepping for that evening's four-course meal.
What started out as one extremely quiet kitchen turned into a group discussion about culinary school, television fame, expectations for the future, and how that octopus really looks like a space alien.
Autry, who graduated from the North Miami campus in 2004, floated back and forth from
showing her student charges exactly how she wanted tomatoes and mangoes
chopped to watching her octopus simmer on the stove.
student Andrew Mahfood some herbs and greens she brought from Swank Specialty Produce, Autry told us that being back
on campus was giving her flashbacks. "I keep expecting someone to yell
at me," she said more than once, clearly relishing the role-reversal
that now saw her as teacher. "I'm really enjoying working with the
students, but I don't know if I could be a full-time teacher. I enjoy
cooking myself too much, although maybe when I'm 50 and tired of
working the line..."
The students who volunteered to
work alongside the Top Chef alum and Michelle Bernstein protégée seemed to have their heads and hearts
in the right place. Asked what they expected after graduation,
none of the five students seemed to have any
illusions of instant fame and riches. "To get to the top, you have to
start at the bottom," freshman Celine Alexis Sernet said as she worked
on prepping a tray of shrimp. "When I started classes here, I wanted to
be on Food Network. Now I feel like there's something else I've been put
here to do."
Benjamin Blodgett, a junior majoring in beverages
and a recipient of a $2,000 scholarship, is looking forward to a
corporate career in the food services industry. "I'd like to go into
product development for a large corporation, like a Starbucks." Asked what was the most surprising thing he's discovered about culinary
school, he said it's all the networking and contacts he's made. "We're
in these kitchens for at least six hours a day, and that's a lot of time
to get to know people. There are also a lot of chefs who graduated.
They come back and we get to meet them. There's always something going
on at the school. One of my classmates is now a food writer at CBS
Latino -- just from meeting someone here."
But the school isn't
all cooking in classrooms. In order to graduate, students must excel at
academic studies and complete various labs. To simulate the real world,
if a student misses a day, they're penalized. Too many absences result in the
course having to be retaken -- at the student's expense. "The school
self-weeds out students that think being a chef is easy," said Blodgett,
who's well aware that after graduation he can look forward to 18-hour
days in a kitchen working for about $10 an hour.
Autry gave them
a dose of reality when she said that until three years ago she was
still trying to make ends meet. "I was cooking foie gras and eating
ramen noodles on my couch," she quipped. But she wouldn't
have had it any other way. "I worked with some of the best chefs at the
best restaurants. That's a continuation of my education here, and it gave
me a solid base and a great resumé."
Her advice to the students
as they chopped and prepped dinner: "Don't go for the money. Take jobs
at the best restaurants with the best chefs you can. Work for whatever
they'll pay you, and work while you're still in school. When you get
out, you'll have an advantage because you've already got a resumé started. You've got a leg up."
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Oh, and about starring on a
television show: "I was already cooking for nearly a dozen years before Top Chef. There's plenty of time for everything."