Chef David Nelson on Culinary Arts Schools
I am happy to say I am a friend of Chef David Nelson. He had already done a lot for culinary junkies both professional and novice with his previous web site, Chef2Chef, but now he is giving back to that same community with his new Chefs4Students.org (no longer active) culinary foundation.
By raising money for culinary grants presented to culinary students around the world to help fund their education, Chef Nelson and his support team are giving these students the opportunity to stay in school and earn a degree. I am pleased to say that this April there will be a Reluctant Gourmet Culinary Grant presented to one of these students. More on that later.
I interviewed Chef Nelson at my Novice2Pro page and I highly encourage you to read his first interview. As a follow up, I wanted to learn from David about his own culinary school experience, what prospective culinary students should be thinking about before applying and more about Chef4Students.org and how someone interested in a culinary grant can apply.
Follow up Interview with Chef David Nelson:
How did you decide on Johnson & Wales University? (Location, reputation, cost?)
All of the above really. I was from New Hampshire and was familiar with Rhode Island as I attended a private Catholic school there in my youth. Johnson & Wales University had and still has a great reputation and I was convinced it was the school for me.
One of my best high school friends and cooking buddies was attending there as well. We cooked together for years before and after attending J&W. He got out of the business and went on to become a restaurant equipment salesman years later and is still doing that to this day.
Did you compare it to other schools?
Not really. That was in the late 70’s and Johnson and Wales and the Culinary Institute of America were my only options, as they were close to home. I think I was afraid of New York and the city. I wasn’t aware of many other options as I recall. We didn’t have the tools we do now to gather information. Pocket calculators were pretty high tech back then if I remember.
What were you looking for in a culinary arts school?
For me…confirmation. I knew I enjoyed cooking and I had quite a bit of experience for a young guy. I needed to submerge myself in it for a while to confirm that it was my direction in life. I needed to solidify my passion for the business in my own mind. I did that quickly and hit the ground running after I left the school.
What advice would you give a high school student interested in going to culinary school?
Don’t go in blind. Get some experience in the field before going.
Talk to a lot of people and select your school of choice wisely. Make sure the curriculum is the perfect fit for the direction you would like to see your career take. Visit different campuses, talk to the councilors and some of the students if possible. Find culinary student forums online and look over some of the topics being discussed. Get involved in your future, it is the only one you have.
Look for as many sources of financial aid as you can before going into school. Know exactly how you are going to pay for your total education, so that you can complete the program and graduate. That is so important.
The hours in this business are long and you will give up many of the best hours of your life for your craft…nights, weekends, holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc. You are going to spend a lot of time and money on that education. Make sure you are committed.
What was your first job as a professional in the restaurant industry and what was that like?
My first “real” job I had was right after I left Johnson and Wales. I went to work at the local country club under a great chef. He was willing to teach me everything he knew. I still use recipes and techniques I learned from him. The hours were long and grueling, but we had a blast back there. Those were some of my greatest times. I was like a sponge.
What are the top 3 or 4 traits someone should have to succeed as a chef?
A good palate.
Outstanding time management and people skills.
The ability to be confident and humble at the same time.
A good culinary background and the desire to continually learn and improve.
Let’s talk about Chefs4Students.org. (Now Closed Unfortunately)
OK…I can do that all day.
Can you tell us a little about the foundation and how it began? How did you come up with the idea of creating a foundation to raise money for grants and scholarships for culinary students?
I can’t take the credit for creating the foundation. It was the creation of many great chefs a few years back on the Chef2Chef.net Forums. It started with a chef outside of Detroit named Kelly Johnson. He is currently a corporate chef for the Sysco Corporation and a great dad. He was a partner in a family restaurant at the time and was having a guest chef in once and a while to cook with him and his staff. He was talking about it on the forums and one of the chefs from Texas volunteered to come up and cook. Then another chef decided to go and so on. Well, it turned out to be quite a time and they cooked up a storm. Our partners were there and they brought back many pictures and posted them up on the site. Next thing you know….everyone wants to get together and cook.
We didn’t raise a lot of money that night but the seed was sown. We created the scholarship program pages on the site. That year Chef2Chef put up a couple thousand dollars and we handed out our first grants.
Another chef, Florian Wehrli from Windsor, Colorado offered up his restaurant the next year and it was decided that the money raised would go towards the scholarship program. We raised over $6,000 that night. You have never seen a group of chefs quite that proud in your life! The rest is history.
In 2006, we renamed the program Chefs4Students.org and continue on the same path. You can see all the events, menus, etc. on the site.
How important is it to provide these types of grants?
It is VERY important! A culinary education is very expensive. The dropout rate is high and financing is one of the reasons many leave the schools. Our goal is to help the students who have made the decision to attend a culinary program make it all the way through.
What kind of response are you getting from the public?
To date we have handed out sixty five $1,000 Culinary Grants. It is pretty exciting. Our goal is to one day be able to hand out $100,000 a year in grants.
What are some of the schools your grant recipients are going to?
It is across the board RC. We have handed out grants to students attending the CIA, Johnson & Wales, French Culinary Institute, New England Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, Art Institutes and more. We have also handed out grants to regional and local technical colleges as well as international schools in Italy, Paris and Canada. We have no favorite schools…it is all about the students.
Can you share a story about one or more of the recipients of your scholarships?
A French Culinary Institute grant recipient named Crystal Frazier has attended two fund raisers since graduating and actually worked with the chefs. She even helped me with my last dish at the recent fundraiser in Windsor, Colorado this summer. She has gone on to be the pastry chef at Log Haven in Salt Lake City. She just released her newest dessert menu and also recently got engaged. So, she is a very busy young chef. She hopes to host a fundraiser one day too.
What’s the difference between a grant and a scholarship?
They are pretty similar RC. Grants and scholarships both are funds for students on academic, athletic or financial based standpoints. Also, neither requires the student to pay back the money after he or she graduates. They are not loans.
Grants are usually provided by governments and/or non-profit organizations and can be based on financial needs or other guidelines. Scholarships are usually provided by private corporations or individuals and can be based on prior academic achievement or talent of some kind.
Are there requirements?
Of Course…To be considered eligible for a Chefs4Students Culinary Grant, you must be currently enrolled and in good standing at an accredited Culinary School or Institute in the United States or abroad six weeks prior to any given grant disbursements. U.S. citizenship is not a requirement. Applicants should have a strong academic record, good character references and demonstrate financial need. Only completed applications along with a 500 minimum word essay will be considered.
Chefs4Students.org does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, color, national origin, marital status or disability.
Application Deadlines: Applications must be postmarked by February 15th for the April 1st disbursements or August 15th for the October 1st disbursements.
NOTE: Grants will be paid directly to the accredited culinary school you are attending to be applied against your tuition. The culinary school can be located in any country and US citizenship is not a requirement.
How do you select your grant recipients?
It is a daunting task RG. There are so many deserving students out there. Here is a quick overview.
We first review all the applications. Sadly, nearly half of them are not fully filled out and never make it to the selection phase of the process. It is very important when asking for free money to provide any organization as much information as they need.
The applications, essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts and other materials are reviewed. Then we contact the schools to make sure that the students did indeed enroll and are currently attending in good standing. It is a lot of work. We can go through 500 or more applications every six months.
A financial review is conducted by the Chefs4Students Administrators, then participating Chefs4Students.org chefs, industry experts, educators and approved Chefs4Students forum members will read the essays, letters of recommendation and transcripts. Grant recipients are selected from the pool by a majority blind vote of the participating panel. It is lot of work and pressure for that panel. I owe them a lot for their time and consideration. Many have been with us since the beginning.
If a chef sees reads this interview, how can they get involved?
By sponsoring a Chefs4Students Culinary Fund Raiser in your area, you will help us raise funds for the Chefs4Students Culinary Grant Program. You will also generate positive and lasting publicity for your restaurant in a respectable and fun way. If you are interested, please contact me using the Contact Us Page on the web site.
A chef or his or her restaurant or organization can make a donation or fund grants to be given in their name, just like you did RC. It is great publicity and a wonderful way to give back to the future of your industry. It is the right thing to do and it feels good. I know.