For SUNY Cobleskill chef-instructor Dave Campbell, passion is the most important ingredient to become successful in the culinary business.
“Cooking is not that hard if you really love what you’re doing,” he said. “I just want the students to be passionate about it. It’s too many hours not to be passionate. Who wants to work 80 hours a week if you don’t love what you’re doing?”
Campbell’s ability to convey that passion to his students has earned him the American Culinary Federation’s Chef Educator of the Year Award, which was presented last month at the ACF Northeast Regional Conference in Verona. The award recognizes an educator whose knowledge and skills have enhanced the image of the professional chef and who has given leadership, guidance and direction to students seeking a career in the profession, according to a news release.
Campbell said he was surprised when he beat out the two other semifinalists from this region and received the plaque.
“I was up against a couple people that were pretty highly regarded. Honestly, I didn’t think I had a chance,” he said.
Campbell came close last year, reaching the semifinal round. He said he could not have achieved this honor without the support of his local ACF chapter, whose members suggested that he apply last year. He was successful when he reapplied this year.
“When I won, I felt that I had 20 family members right there with me,” he said.
The four regional winners will compete in the ACF finals to be held in July 21-25 in Las Vegas.
“We’re going to have to present a cooking demonstration/lesson in front of a group of spectators and previous winners who are going to evaluate us on how we did,” he said.
Campbell has a master’s degree in educational theory and practice from the University at Albany, master’s degree in hospitality management from the University of Houston and a bachelor’s degree in food service management from Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I.
He worked in restaurants in Williamsburg and in Savannah, Ga., and Houston, Texas, before taking his current position so his wife could be closer to her family in Syracuse. Now in his 19th year at Cobleskill, Campbell said culinary students have to have an open mind about food.
Love of food
“They really have to love food. They have to be willing to taste everything,” he said.
He said he enjoys working with the students, who learn a bit differently than the previous generation. They are better at multitasking and have the drive to succeed.
“They’re used to watching TV and texting and staying on the computer. I think we’ve got to keep education going pretty quickly or they get bored pretty quickly,” he said.
Campbell recently took over management of SUNY Cobleskill’s coffee shop, Coby’s, and now culinary students are serving dinner on Thursdays and Fridays. The dinner venture has made a small profit, according to Campbell.
Campbell is also working to expand SUNY Cobleskill’s culinary class offerings and incorporate current technology into his courses. He is developing an upper-level sensory analysis and molecular gastronomy class for 2013.
He also received chapter Chef Educator of the Year awards in 2001, 2007 and 2010 from ACF Capital District — Central New York.
He advises prospective chefs to get some real-world experience in a restaurant before enrolling in school.
“They seemed to get everything done in a half-hour on Food Network, and it doesn’t quite work that way in real life,” he said.
He said working in a restaurant is much more similar to the high-pressure environment seen on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” program.
“It’s very stressful, very military-like. The chef needs something done. It needs to be done right away. It’s tough for some people to handle,” he said.
Still, he loves the culinary industry.
“If I won the lottery, I think I would still do this,” he said. “It’s my hobby and I just get paid to do it.”