The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - 46

"You can learn a lot
about yourself in the
kitchen. It's a leap of
faith every single time."
justice, and one in massage therapy. But, she never used either one.
Instead, she kept drifting back to food and the kitchen. Once her
daughter turned 16 and could drive herself to early morning swim
practices, Mehrkens decided to enter the classroom once again.
"I was apprehensive," admits Mehrkens. "I was one of the older
students in the class. I wasn't sure how things would go. But I had
a fantastic experience."
Though Mehrkens had years of experience in the food industry, by
the time she entered culinary school - primarily in front of the house,
but also in kitchen management - receiving a formal education was
important to her. For building skills, yes, but primarily for building
positive relationships. Mehrkens was diligent to volunteer as much
as she could. These opportunities fostered a great camaraderie with
her professors, many of whom are well-respected chefs in the Valley.
Upon graduating in 2012, Mehrkens went on to earn her executive
chef certification through the American Culinary Federation.
Both Steuber-Kaczmarski and Mehrkens say they definitely
recognize their odd positions as women chefs in a male-dominated
profession. However, they also are quick to recognize the challenges
they've faced in their careers aren't unique to anyone else's.
"There is so much scrutiny," says Steuber-Kaczmarski when
describing culinary school. "It's very demanding. My class started
with 40, and we ended with 11."
And that's just the beginning.

46

MARCH/APRIL 2020

"Becoming a chef is a long, arduous climb. It requires experience,
knowledge, skill, judgment, taste and dedication," explains Chef
James Zeisler, Program Director at Virginia Western's Culinary Arts
Program. "Getting a culinary degree is definitely a step in the right
direction and more of a fast track. One can do an apprenticeship, or
work their way up the ranks, but it takes longer."
Culinary school provides students the equipping of skills, and
the opportunity for building relationships outside the school's four
walls. Zeisler encourages his students to work part-time jobs while
in school and volunteer for the many community catering events the
school participates in, as a way to hone their skills and gain some
level of experience before graduation. If they don't, Zeisler tells his
students they should be prepared to start as a dishwasher/prep cook,
or maybe a line cook, and work their way "up the ladder."
Steuber-Kaczmarski has notched over a dozen different kitchen
experiences since graduating culinary school. She even spent time
abroad working in international kitchens, where sometimes, the only
common language between her and her fellow kitchen staff was that
of food. Everywhere she goes, her goal is to be fully present in the
kitchen and learn all she can from those around her.
"You can learn a lot about yourself and others in the kitchen," says
Steuber-Kaczmarski. "It's a leap of faith every single time."
And while she's certainly met her fair share of challenging work
environments, the good experiences have heavily outweighed the

TheRoanoker.com

JOHN PARK

- Madi Steuber-Kaczmarski (pictured)


http://www.TheRoanoker.com

The Roanoker - March/April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - March/April 2020

The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Intro
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover1
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover2
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - 3
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - 4
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - 5
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The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover3
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover4
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