Inharvest Corporate Chef Tells Graduates Of Victory Trade School To Seek Out New Ideas And Mentorship, To Network ... And To Give Back
"Everyone, no matter how talented, has to pay his or her dues," said Jason Ziobrowski, CEC, corporate chef of InHarvest's Eastern Region, to graduates of the culinary-arts program at Victory Trade School (VTS). "You are no exception. Pay yours, and pay them willingly. And remember to network while doing it! At the end of the road, you'll be well rewarded."
With those words, Ziobrowski began the commencement speech he was invited to deliver to more than 500 assembled graduates, their families and friends, as well as representatives of the foodservice community, at the Springfield, Mo.-based school on Nov. 8. He shared his story of being inspired to pursue professional cooking when, as a boy, his grandmother praised his tuna-fish sandwich, leading to his culinary-arts degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., followed by stints in professional kitchens of restaurants, clubs and corporations throughout the country. Ziobrowski recounted the highs and lows, twists and turns of a varied 20-year career that led to the building of his family, earning certification as an executive chef from the American Culinary Federation and, ultimately, becoming a corporate chef for InHarvest and serving customers in the vast swath of the nation east of the Mississippi River.
Ziobrowski told graduates to zealously explore new ideas from every source. "Read everything you can get your hands on," he said. Look not only at food TV for inspiration, but also the chalkboard menu at a mom-and-pop establishment. Research the finest restaurants, but don't ignore the corner Jewish deli and lunchtime taco truck. "Look down the street at your competitor," Ziobrowski continued, "but remember that the best source of trend information is right here in this room: your customers and guests."
He also encouraged graduates to "network, network and network some more," as well as seek mentorship and strive to give back to the industry. "In every successful person's life, there is at least one individual who is responsible for steering him or her in the right direction," Ziobrowski said. "Find a mentor. Make him or her teach you things. And don't worry that you can't repay, because every chef must give away some of who he or she is without the thought of recompense. Someday, you will do the same for someone who is just starting out."
Established in 2003 as a subsidiary of the Springfield Victory Mission, Inc., Victory Trade School (www.victorytradeschool.edu) offers an accredited education in culinary arts for nontraditional students while providing professional, hands-on experience in two culinary-learning laboratories: student-operated Cook's Kettle Restaurant on historic Commercial Street and The Branch Bistro & Catering located in the national headquarters of the Assemblies of God USA. The 12-month program is based on a model that allows students to graduate with zero debt thanks to federal financial-aid grants, private institutional scholarships and internships associated with VTS' social enterprises. To be eligible, students enrolling in the program may not apply for federal or private loans.
Ziobrowski concluded his speech by exhorting graduates, as they embarked on their new careers, to treat everyone with respect while making a difference in their own backyards. "Shape the culinary world in which you live," he said. "Lead by example, and always maintain the highest standards of your new profession. Earn the respect of those you work for, those who will someday work under you and-always-the people you serve.
"Be you! That is, be genuine. And cook some darn good food!"
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Brent T. Frei