One of the new things I’ve been trying to start with the In Good Cooking Always blog is a series of chef features. Chef Ed Kowalski was kind enough to respond with the below question and answer post.
What Motivated You To Become A Chef?
My grandmother, Eileen. As a child, my parents and grandparents were all very active in the local American legion and any time there was a big Legion function, Grandma and the ladies of the Auxiliary did all the cooking. I had the honor of being Grandma’s taste-tester, and it was from here that I learned not only my passion for food and cooking, but also my demeanor in the kitchen: firm, but respectful. There was no question who was running that kitchen. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to cook for her…
What achievement are you most proud of from your time as a chef?
Taking care of our guests during each event is a proud achievement in and of itself, but if I have to pick another I would have to say that to date, my proudest (and most terrifying) moment came in August 2008 when I passed my CSC. To be able to do so alongside some of the chefs I have been privileged to work with in the past was an added bonus. If I have to pick another it would be having Chef Hartmut Handke, CMC, compliment me on a dish I served him.
How if the role of the chef changing?
It’s not just about the food anymore. Chef have to be smart financial managers, human resource experts and, at times, psychologists. With the popularity and easy access to food programming (Food Network, Top Chef, et al.) chefs are looked upon almost as celebrities now.
What do you think will be the major issues chefs face over the next 20 years?
A big issue is education and teaching the younger generations and their parents about healthy eating habits and nutrition. Teaching them the importance of eating vegetables, fruits, etc., in stead of just stuffing a Twinkie in their face while playing video games. The childhood obesity problem is epidemic, and we have to play a major role in reversing it.
What are you looking forward to this year as a Delaware North chef?
Hopefully, some NHL playoff games in Columbus. Our culinary team at Nationwide Arena has also set a goal to be more active in both the local ACF chapter and our community.
What do you believe is the most controversial topic in the culinary world?
I think it is two-fold: genetically-modified foods and the continued survival of threatened species of seafood. I encourage people to buy local whenever possible and to get to know their vendors and where the food they eat comes from. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. To think that on a planet that is 70 percent water, a species of fish faces extinction because McDonalds sells millions of Filet-o-Fish sandwich each year is mind-boggling. Likewise, the threatened existence of the small family farmer in the face of corporate “farming” practices is heart-breaking. There was a time when the American farmer was the backbone of our nation.
Were there any personal or professional obstacles that almost prevented you from becoming a chef?
Despite my early influences, when I graduated from high school, culinary school was not an option due to financial realities. So, I did it the old-fashioned way, graduating with a B.S (Bachelors of Sweat) from the School of Hard Knocks. I encountered some resistance from friends and family (“Oh, you’re too smart to waste your life cooking.”), but, ironically, those are some of the same individuals who now clamor for recipes or beg me to cook for them.
What is the most important piece of advice you could offer someone just setting out to culinary school?
Two things: read everything you can get your hands on (I especially recommend Michael Ruhlman’s “The Soul of a Chef” and Domenbug/Page’s “Becoming a Chef”) and second, before you spend a dime on tuition, actually get into a kitchen and work. You may discover that it’s not a life for you, but, on the other hand, it may confirm your desire to be a chef. Also, pay attention in math class.