Major: Culinary Arts Management
Hometown: Chico, CA
Classically trained in vocal performance and jazz, Amy Chicavich discovered that the place where she makes the most beautiful music is in the kitchen.
“I love eating. I love food. I love everything about it. It’s like music for me, a whole-body experience,” says Amy Chicavich, a senior airman in the United States Air Force. While completing her Bachelor of Music Performance and Jazz Studies at California State University, Long Beach, Amy was approached by a recruiter in the military music field about upcoming auditions. “I didn’t grow up in a military family and I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about it,” Amy says. “I’m from Northern California where there isn’t a big military presence, so it was a new idea to me.” She aced the audition and won a position with the Air Combat Command Heritage of America Band stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
“Our deployment was kind of like the USO, to support and entertain the troops but, unlike the USO, we went to active bases,” recalls Amy. “As active duty military, we were able to go to smaller bases that were a little more dangerous, a little more out there. We were deployed to areas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman where we performed for the moral of the troops. That was our main mission.”
After four years, Amy was ready for a new challenge, and a culinary career seemed like a natural fit. “I always cooked with my mom and my grandmothers as a little girl. Preparing food was a family activity. I’m first-generation American from two different ethnic backgrounds. My mother is from Scotland and my dad is from Mexico. Food plays a big part in both cultures,” says Amy. “My Mexican grandmother taught me how to make beans and rice and enchiladas, which were staples growing up, and my mother is a fantastic baker. We have family traditions like reciting Address to the Haggis every Robert Burns Day and making tamales every Christmas. These things really brought us together as a family and it was a huge part of my upbringing.”
Amy’s husband James also served in the military as a sergeant in the United States Army with the 4th Psychological Operations Group, part of the Special Operations Command. They met through mutual friends and married in May 2011.
“When we separated from the military, the GI Bill made it possible for both of us to go to school,” says Amy “James is finishing his degree in criminal justice at Marist. Coming to the CIA was a no-brainer. I chose it because it’s the best. I didn’t want to go halfway. I wanted to take advantage of the premier culinary education available in the world. It’s a place that challenges you, and I was ready for a new challenge. This is where I needed to be. James gave me the confidence to enroll and encourages me everyday. If it wasn’t for the military, I wouldn’t have had this incredible opportunity.”
The transition from military to civilian life involved some challenges. “James and I were fully engrossed in the military lifestyle. We lived it,” explains Amy. “Stepping away from that is a big deal after experiencing some of the things we have both stateside and on overseas deployment. People don’t always understand what we’ve been through. Thankfully, the CIA has great advocacy and support for veterans. I’ve been welcomed with open arms.”
Part of the transitition that was seamless was the change from one uniform to another. “It’s really easy for me to come to school every day wearing a uniform correctly and with pride. That was something I was used to,” says Amy. “I wear the veteran lapel pin and the Air Force pin proudly and people recognize it. All the faculty and staff I’ve had interactions with have been supportive and grateful for my service.”
Her military background and training has served Amy well on campus. “The biggest thing I’ve notice in the transition from the military to attending the CIA is the discipline: being able to show up on time to class, having all my assignments done, having self control in the kitchen—we call it military bearing—and acting like a professional at all times.”
Amy is confident in her decision to come to the CIA. “I love that the people I’m surrounded by share my passion. I love that the professors and chefs are fully engaged and live for food. The pedigree of the faculty is incredible and it’s humbling to be learning from the most esteemed professionals from around the world,” Amy says. “And I love that my classmates and I all started on a level playing field and we learn as one team. No one is better than the other and we’re all working towards a greater food experience.”
In her quest for a successful culinary career, Amy Chicavich is definitely hitting all the right notes.