National Culinary Arts Month Educator Highlight- Bill Walker
As we continue with #CulinaryArtsMonth, we have another educator to highlight. Bill Walker has been teaching ProStart for six years at East Providence Career & Technical Center in Rhode Island. Before teaching, he had an extensive culinary career. We asked Bill what his favorite dish was to teach his students and he said braising, “it’s so methodical in its nature and requires patience and technique.” He often tells his students, “Anyone can take an expensive steak like a sirloin and make it into a great meal, but it takes skill and understanding to take a chuck roast or a bottom round and turn it into something wonderful.” The final result has character, complexity, and depth by virtue of a slow cooking process.
Before Bill received a “formal” culinary education, he grew up working in his small family-owned Italian restaurant in Queens, NY. That is where he says he discovered his love for cooking and “the wonderful sense of camaraderie that comes with working in that environment.” Bill referred to the kitchen as “The Island of Misfit Toys”, saying “Kitchens are often the perfect place for those who are passionate, hard-working, but don’t necessarily “fit in.” in a traditional work environment.” When it was time to go to college, Bill attended and graduated from Johnson & Wales University with an AOS of Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s in Foodservice Management. Following his BS he nomadically wandered about the country working in different restaurants trying to learn as much as he could. After 10 years he returned to Johnson & Wales to earn a Masters in Culinary Education. Since 2001 he has been teaching high school Culinary Arts, running a practicum property for Johnson & Wales University, and serving as the Executive Chef of both Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Boston and Salve Regina University.
When we asked Bill what he enjoyed most about his culinary education and experience in the restaurant industry, he mentioned the value of his education at Johnson & Wales for teaching him basic techniques to be successful, soft skills, and professionalism- but one person came specifically to his mind. Joe Cervone owned the restaurant that Bill worked in as a teenager, and took the time to mentor Bill as he grew into the chef he is today. Bill says, “he made it a point to check in with me several times each year and to offer advice and encouragement along the way.” Bill says that not a day goes by where he doesn’t think of Joe and thank his lucky stars that he cared enough about Bill to help him succeed even after he didn’t work for Joe anymore. Bill says this experience effected his view of a chef as a mentor and his obligation to the next generation of chefs to help them as much as Joe helped him.
Bill had some advice for upcoming chefs and culinary professionals as they enter the culinary world. He says, “show up early for work, ALWAYS!” Bill continued, “Joe taught me that five minutes early was late, and fifteen minutes early was on time.” He stressed the importance of taking a few minutes to take inventory and making lists to have a clean and successful shift. He finished by saying, “Mise is place is life, everything else is just in details.” Bill also encouraged young professionals to seek a mentor who can help them set and achieve goals, just like Joe did for him. Bill mentioned the importance of writing down a few short and long-term goals and a plan to achieve them. He says, “a goal without a plan for achieving it is just a dream.” Bill tells his students that each short-term goal can be “One Little Victory”, and that the greatest act can be, Just One Little Victory.
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