Derek Smith ’13, Culinary Arts

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Derek Smith ’13

Derek Smith ’13

Degree: BPS
Major: Culinary Arts
Hometown: Detroit, MI

How did you become interested in food?
After serving seven proud years through 9-11 and Operation Enduring Freedom, I separated in 2005 and began to bounce miserably from one retail job to another working 13-hour days, six days a week. I felt trapped, stuck in a rut. After working all day, all I wanted to do was go home and jump in the kitchen. That was my relief. My therapy. So I would light up all four burners, have 3 pans in the oven, and go to work. When something was done cooking, I would put it in storage a storage container, wash out the pot and start round two. Next thing I knew, it was 5 hours later, I cooked everything in the house, and the refrigerator was full of Tupperware! And I never broke a sweat. I was in the middle of one of these cooking storms that I had an aha moment–I had an original restaurant concept hit me like like a bolt of lightning and that was it for me. I decided that night that I was going to culinary school. I gave notice on my apartment and jobs the next day.

Who most influenced you?
My mother. I grew up in a family of six and my mother was always cooking. We didn’t have a lot of money, so going for a meal with a family of that size meant a night out at McDonald’s. That was the big time. So my mother, even though she worked full time, always came home, broke out her recipe book of note cards and made dinner for the family. I always wanted to help and loved tasting food and learning how to make different things. I loved the hands on work. Later, as we kids started getting older, my elder sister and I started doing the cooking for dinner to help out. At the time, we were living in Belgium (my father was military) I got a chance to travel through Europe and further develop my love affair with food and eating. Although my interest in cooking was something I always had, I felt obligated to pursue a military career.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles or challenges to come to the CIA?
When I made the decision to move to culinary school, I decided to move from San Antonio to Fort Worth where I stayed with a friend and his family for a month and a half while getting back on my feet. I had no job, no money, and a mountain of debt. I ultimately found a job as a demo chef at a local gourmet grocery store, called Central Market by H.E.B., and a room for rent that I could afford. Within a couple of months of moving in, one of my roomate moved out and the house I was renting went into foreclosure. That was when I drove out of Fort Worth to come to CIA.

Do you have a previous degree/career?
I have a BA in Communications and BA in English from Norwich University, VT, the nation’s oldest private military university. I then went into the Air Force for 7 years, first as an enlisted aircraft mechanic, then as a navigator officer. While in the USAF, I also got an AAS in Aerospace Maintenance Technology from the Community College of the Air Force.

Why did you choose the CIA?
For its reputation and the BPS program.

What do you like best about CIA?
It’s a prestigious culinary school in a real college setting, complete with student activities, government, sports, etc. Also, the chef instructors are real professionals who have worked in the field and bring that experience and knowledge to the classroom and kitchen in a practical, real world application.

What are your career goals/plans?
Right after graduation, I hope to get a job in a high end, American Regional cuisine restaurant such as Craft by Tom Collichio. From there, I plan to build my own restaurant empire based on a menu that is regional, seasonal, sustainable and healthy.

Any advice for prospective students?
There is no better school in the world to learn to cook. The Culinary is the only choice!

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