Unexpected Restaurant Industry Career Path – Foundation Leader



There is never a dull moment when working in the restaurant industry! Just ask Andrew Kaplan, who after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America went on to work a pastry job, attend hospitality school, and take the lead at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s culinary demo program where he eventually met Rachael Ray. Today, he is the director of Rachael Ray’s nonprofit, Yum-o!, and the director of special projects for Ray’s overall company. 


This post is a summary of an interview that originally appeared on www.foodarts.com. Read the full, original article.

It all started while growing up in suburban Chicago, where Andrew spent his summers following his dad, a distributor of Vienna Beef, around to stockyards, restaurants, and hot dog stands and cooking alongside his mother at home.

Kaplan found his calling after attending The Culinary Institute of America. “The CIA was amazing, like boot camp!” Kaplan recalls. “On top of culinary, you learn networking and professionalism. You have to iron your chef’s jacket, always be presentable—no spots! You have to be cleanly shaven. It’s pretty hard-core, and I loved it. I’d do the whole program all over again.”

After graduation, Kaplan got a job in pastry back in Chicago and then went on to attend hospitality school at Florida International University, which led to a full-time job at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. This is where Kaplan met Rachel Ray, after co-producing one of her cooking demos.

Starting as an associate producer on Rachael Ray’s TV show, he helped launch Ray’s nonprofit foundation called Yum-o! Today, as the director of the Yum-O Foundation and the director of special projects for Ray’s overall company, a big part of his job is helping Ray with TV appearances and his duties as director of the Yum-o! Foundation, which focus on improving school food nationwide and working to feed hungry kids. Kaplan also helps Ray edit her cookbooks, does recipe testing, writes a column called “On Kappy’s Plate” for RachaelRay.com and serves as the talent producer on Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off.

“My day-to-day is always exciting and never the same,” he reports. “I’ve met President Clinton and had a private tour of the West Wing…two of the coolest things ever. I’ve gone to Washington four times to lobby for a child nutrition bill, which was finally signed by President Obama—extraordinary! I helped produce the China Food & Wine Festival in Tianjin…one wonderful opportunity after another.”

What’s next is anyone’s guess. Andrew says,  “If I had actually made a career plan and stuck to it, none of this would have happened. I’ve just been extraordinarily lucky.”

According to National Restaurant Association research, more than 250,000 military veterans are currently employed in the restaurant industry and that number is expected to increase by 25,000 within the next five years.

The National Restaurant Association Military Foundation is offering military foodservice personnel culinary training at its annual Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence through Oct. 10.

The Armed Forces Forum, which is being held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., offers a week of training, education, mentoring and networking to outstanding military servicemen and women from foodservice operations at Air Force, Air National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps and Military Sealift Command installations or ships located around the world.

Participants learn to hone their culinary and foodservice management skills in seminars, hands-on cooking activities and mentoring and career-coaching sessions. The culinary sessions will focus on such topics as flavor dynamics and global cuisine, repairing and reviving recipes, and techniques for cooking seasonal dishes.

Creating Opportunity


Photo Credit: Phil Mansfield/CIA

What happens when you give up a corporate job to follow your passion in baking and pastry, only to discover that flour, sugar, and dairy make you sick? When Molly Duncan, a 2009 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, became sick with unexplained autoimmune and fatigue issues, she realized that she was living the wrong life.

Instead of giving up her culinary career, Molly looked inward and realized that “How we eat and how we approach food is a microcosm for our whole lifestyle.”  She combined her entrepreneurial spirit, her background in food and hospitality, and her desire to help others to create a career as a health coach. Molly now works with others to rediscover their vitality through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

I asked Molly to share her insights on how she found success in her culinary career.

Three Questions with Molly Duncan, health coach:

RH: What are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur and health coach?


  1. Customer service/hospitality/people skills. You have to be willing to get in to the trenches with your clients to make them feel special.
  2. Marketing. You need to be unafraid to put yourself out there. Without marketing, you will have no business.
  3. Organization and time management. If I’m inefficient, I am no good to my clients, and they can see that.

RH:  What keeps you doing what you do?

MD: I have a talent for teaching people. When I use that gift, I feel most alive. When I don’t, I compulsively stress eat. It took me some time to realize that.

RH: Complete the sentence: “I wish someone had told me…”

MD: Get out of your own way. Identify your self-limiting beliefs and let go! Be afraid, but do it anyway.

Ronald Hayes is the Associate Director—Career Services at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Creating Your Culinary Career (Wiley, 2013).

My Rise in the Restaurant Industry: Bahjat Shariff


This is a guest post from Bahjat Shariff, Operating Partner at Panera Bread and previous winner of our Faces of Diversity Award. 

While I was going to college, I needed a job to provide me with some fast income. I found KFC at 18 years old and started working there at $3.35 per hour (1984). I started as a cook and was responsible for breaking the chicken, then moved up to breading the chicken, which was for more experienced cooks. I was a cook for one year and then became an Assistant Manager one year later and I was excited to be making about $10 an hour and getting some overtime; it allowed me to buy a car. By 1986-87, I became a general manager and training GM and then by late 1989 (when I was 24 years old), I was offered a District Manager position of 7 restaurants. This was huge, as it materially changed my life and my life style, especially while raising a young family.

Today, at the age of 48, I am an equity partner with a Panera Bread Franchise, managing a $75MM company with over 1400 employees for the last 14 years.

Watch Bahjat’s Faces of Diversity American Dream Award acceptance speech below:

For more information on the restaurant industry workforce, visit here. 

The Restaurant Industry: Building Blocks to the American Dream


This is a guest blog post from Marla Topliff, President of Rosatis Pizza

Rosati’s was my first job in the industry, and I didn’t start as a kid but as a mom reentering the workforce after raising her kids. People often say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but this old dog took to the pizza business like cheese takes to sauce. At age 49, I started a new career in the restaurant business and have never looked back. I am now president of the company.

There are few industries that would have given a 49-year-old woman a chance. I had to learn the restaurant business from the ground up and work every position in the store to learn all aspects of how the restaurant runs. It was hard work to say the least, but this industry encouraged me to go for it and welcomed me with open arms. The restaurant industry welcomes everyone! 

It has been an amazing journey that exemplifies one key point:

This industry of ours is not just about kids starting out who need extra money. Sure, that accounts for some of it, but it’s more about being a launching pad to a bright and promising career. It’s about new beginnings for our returning veterans and giving them a chance for a bright future when they need it most. Or as in my case, it’s about the restart of a new career that allows for a returning workforce to use their years of life experience in a whole new way. Ultimately the restaurant industry is a building block to the American Dream - a land of chances for anyone who wants to reach out and grab one, and I’m living proof of that.

For more information on the restaurant workforce, visit here. 

Opportunity and Advancement in the Restaurant Industry


This is a guest post from Nathan Gearhart, General Manager/Managing Partner at Chili’s Bar & Grill in Peoria, Arizona.

I began working in a restaurant as my first job opportunity.  I was hired at McDonalds as a team member, and had a chance to work on voice techniques in the Drive Through as the voice of the evening shift (after school and on weekends).  This job provided me with enough money to save up and purchase a car, which I used to transport me to my next opportunity as a Kitchen Crew member at the KFC further down the street.  This job provided me with the skills I needed, and confidence in foodservice, to pursue a different challenge in the industry.  After a few stopgap jobs outside of the food industry (TELEMARKETING….YIKES!!!), I realized that I was truly happy working in a foodservice environment. 

In 1996 I was hired at Chili’s Paradise Valley in Phoenix, AZ.  My first job function was Dishwasher.  I loved the pace and energy of this job, and the PEOPLE were what made it AWESOME!  I developed many new friendships, and in the process met the woman who became my wife and mother of my 5 sons.

Over the years I learned each function in the kitchen at Chili’s, and eventually got the great opportunity to become an On the Road Trainer, teaching new team members how to work in our kitchens and prepare our AWESOME food all over the country!  During this time I was also a musician touring with a band, so my time at home was quite limited.  Eventually it became clear that I needed to be at home more to support my wife as she was taking care of our first two sons without my help.  I gave up the touring lifestyle both with Chili’s and Music and focused on excellence with both on a local level.  This focus allowed me the opportunity to partner with great GM’s and managers at Chili’s to develop the skills I needed to become a restaurant manager.  I was fortunate to apply for and to be hired for a management position with Chili’s, and started the next chapter in my career.

As a manager I continued to refine and develop the knowledge and skills needed to run a great and balanced business.  After about 5 years of assistant managing, I set my sights on the next level, GM!  Luckily, again I was partnered with GREAT leaders that continued to teach me all of the skills needed to take on this role.  I was promoted to GM three years ago, and achieved Managing Partner status a short while later.

I am currently the General Manager/Managing Partner at Chili’s Happy Valley in Peoria, Arizona.  My restaurant leads Culinary Rollouts for our area, and I have the great opportunity to also train and develop new managers in our area.  I am truly passionate about my job, and will continue to pursue the next challenge and opportunity for advancement in the future.    

For more information on the restaurant industry workforce, visit here. 

Restaurant careers: Opportunity for advancement, ownership

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s today released Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry. This new survey explores the past, present and future job experiences and perceptions of nearly 5,100 restaurant operators, employees who work in the industry today, as well as individuals who have previously worked in the industry. It covers how people get started in the industry, their tenure and upward mobility, compensation, and how they perceive the status and opportunity of restaurant jobs and entrepreneurship.

The results give us valuable insight into why so many people choose restaurant careers. A strong majority of current employees say they are proud to work in the restaurant industry, that a restaurant job is a good one to have, and that the industry is a good place to get a first job. A majority also agrees that the restaurant industry provides good long-term career opportunities, and is a place where hard work leads to success and people of all backgrounds can open their own business – something that three in five say they would like to do some day. And what’s more, over three-quarters would recommend working in the restaurant industry to friends and family members. 

From giving one in three Americans their first work experience, to providing long term career paths, the restaurant industry is one of opportunity, advancement and reward. 

Click on the infographic below to view in full:


Buffalo Wild Wings can definitely bring the heat in the kitchen with their signature wing sauces! What’s the spiciest ingredient YOU have ever had to use in a dish? COMMENT here for a chance to win a $100 gift card from Buffalo Wild Wings: http://ow.ly/AHNoK 
Random winner will be announced Wednesday at 12pm/CT.

Buffalo Wild Wings can definitely bring the heat in the kitchen with their signature wing sauces! What’s the spiciest ingredient YOU have ever had to use in a dish? 

COMMENT here for a chance to win a $100 gift card from Buffalo Wild Wings: http://ow.ly/AHNoK 

Random winner will be announced Wednesday at 12pm/CT.

ProStart Student Wins Food Network’s Chopped Teen Tournament!

Announcing the winner of Food Network's Chopped Teen Tournament: Tommi Rae Fowler! 

Tommi Rae is a ProStart student from South Carolina and we couldn’t be more proud. The grand prize included $25,000 in cash and a $40,000 culinary school scholarship. Read Tommi Rae’s reaction here: http://bit.ly/1oMBMXA

We chatted briefly with Tommi following her win:

How has ProStart helped you prepare for the competition?

ProStart helped me because our chef educator taught our class in the same type of fast-paced competition-style manner. I also learned many basic kitchen skills which gave me an upper hand to competitors who hadn’t had any training before. 

What culinary school would you like to attend with your scholarship? 

I would like to attend the Art Institute in Charleston.

What high school do you go to? 

I go to Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. 

How ProStart Prepared Sequoia for Food Network’s ‘Teen Chopped Tournament’


This is a guest blog post from Sequoia Pranger of South Salem High School who has earned a spot in the grand finale of the “Chopped” Teen Tournament tonight on the Food Network Channel at 10/9c. She is competing for for $25,000 and a $40,000 scholarship to culinary arts school.

I decided to apply for Chopped because my ProStart culinary instructor prompted me to and I thought that I had nothing to lose! I had already been to a Prostart competition, and felt the intensity of it. I thought I was as prepared as I could be for a show like Chopped. When I applied (along with a few other classmates), I heard back the next day. I was cooking at school in our culinary arts room, and I was getting a call from New York. I answered and the person on the other line said “Hello, this is so and so from the Food Network.” I almost immediately cried and could hardly articulate my answers to their questions! After that, my life turned into a whirlwind of skype interviews, phone calls and copious emails. Next thing I knew I was on a plane to New York! I spent the majority of my flight wondering how I got this far and hoping that I was indeed ready to compete. 


In the first round of the competition, I was a frazzled mess. They can only show so much in a one hour program but I literally spun around in a circle for 10 minutes saying some version of “oh my gosh.” Chopped judge Chris Santos later told me that I was almost chopped because I couldn’t get my nerves under control. I was really embarrassed about the appetizer round, and the fact that the judges didn’t even get to see who I really am as a chef. In the following rounds, however, I just kept getting better. I can’t bake anything and have almost no pastry skills whatsoever but I put out a dessert that I am more than proud of.

ProStart helped me preform under pressure more than anything. Without it, I don’t even know if I would have had the courage to apply. Teaching kids at a young age that you have to adapt to your situation (whether the stakes are high or absent) helps them grow in to strong, independent individuals. I was able to put my nerves aside and really focus on what was in front of me, and behold, I won my round! 

Thank you, ProStart!