Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Swimming Around the Island of Manhattan AND Professional Cheffing? CKCA Chef Instructor Barbara Rich Can Do it All!

Chef Barbara Rich, an instructor in CKCA’s Summer Cooking Intensive Program, is a dynamic, seasoned teacher and mentor. She is committed to helping her students learn correct and creative techniques for using ingredients in harmonious ways.

We sat down with Chef Rich to hear how she developed into the professional chef she is today. We learned more about her passion for contributing to the culinary world through teaching and molding high quality chefs.

What is your earliest food memory? 
In St. Louis as a child I was always helping in the kitchen. As soon as I got into high school I started working in the kitchen of a gourmet “take-out” shop.  I guess that’s where it all started!

Do you have a formal culinary education?  
I trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. My goal was to gain a thorough understanding of proper cooking techniques, a non-negotiable requirement for being a successful chef.

What has been your path to success as a professional chef and highly respected instructor?
I’ve navigated the twists and turns of the food industry and was able to learn from every culinary position that I’ve had. When I worked at a high-end restaurant, the executive chef trained me to be quick, organized, efficient and consistent. At my jobs in cafés, restaurants and even as an executive chef, I butchered and filleted all the chickens and fish myself! Although my experience in a professional kitchen has been invaluable, I’ve enjoyed the transition to being a chef-instructor.

What do you enjoy about being a chef instructor?
I’m really loving the culinary teaching world and encourage others to consider it.  If you have good communications skills, experience in the kitchen and technical know-how, it is really rewarding to educate the chefs of tomorrow. You need to understand your craft and have the capability to communicate your food knowledge to students so they understand ingredients and cooking techniques. It takes a lot of mental energy, but it so rewarding to watch students develop into competent and talented professionals.

Right now I’m enjoying teaching at CKCA and The Natural Gourmet Institute, both professionally and recreationally. I was recently named Director of Career Services at the The Natural Gourmet Institute! I’m so happy that I get to do it all!

What do you see currently trending in the food world? 
I know it's not cooking, but juicing is going off the charts! I’m even teaching a class on it with a focus on using living foods and detoxification in juicing.…Who would have thought?

Do you have favorite cookbooks or culinary reads? 
"The Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer. Also, believe it or not, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. It's a classic! You’ll also find me reading "Cooks Illustrated," a great read.

How about celebrity chefs?  Do you have any favorites?
Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, chef/co-owner of Wallsé in New York City and Chef Jody Williams, Author of “Buvette: The Pleasure of GoodFood,” a new cookbook that just came out.

What kitchen tools are your favorites?
Easy: My lemon juicer, my Microplane zester and a cast iron pan, which holds heat beautifully and is truly the best pan to use for browning.

Who is your mentor?
Bill Cardwell, who taught me how the chemistry of food works and how to respect food characteristics for the best outcome.

Also, I am really inspired by Judy Rogers of the Zuni Café, where I worked. She taught me the importance of being meticulous. I’m just in awe of her – she really taught me how to treat food and to respect its seasonality as well.

What ingredient / food do you find challenging to make?
Torrone, which is a delicious confection made of honey sugar and egg whites. We use it to make meringues, but I rarely get it quite the way I want. I always get advice from my colleague, CKCA Pastry Chef Ellen Sternau.

If you weren't cooking what would you do for a living?
My best answer is to talk about my passion for athletics and yes, you need to be in good shape to work as a serious chef. 

I’m going to be swimming around the island of Manhattan this fall at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim!  Honestly, it’s just like cooking. There is always a “finish line” in the kitchen. 

Also, both pursuits require you to keep up your endurance so you can produce a quality end product. The race is going to be 120 miles over 6 days!

What is your best advice for culinary students and new grads?
Be prepared for a full experience that requires your mental, physical and intellectual energy and attention. Be willing to put in the time to develop your skills in different areas and different kitchens. Commit to doing whatever it takes to be successful – it is truly worth it in the end!

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