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INTERVIEW WITH MARK VOGEL Food Writer & Culinary Instructor
A Chef James, FoodReference.com exclusive interview with Mark Vogel, whose His column "Food for Thought" is published in a variety of periodicals and websites, including here on FoodReference.com. September, 2006
CHEF JAMES: Well, I guess I must began with an obvious question: How do a Doctorate in psychology and a culinary education fit together? Why did you decide to pursue a career with food?
MARK VOGEL: My interest in psychology preceded my passion for food & wine. Not by that many years though. Early in my career as a psychologist I started becoming interested in cooking and wine collecting. At first I watched cooking shows, bought cookbooks and basically practiced at home. I even took amateur cooking classes. Eventually I decided to pursue it professionally. I went to cooking school and also took professional classes in wine and food writing. I maintained my full time day job and did my culinary education and restaurant work on nights and weekends. The psychology pays the bills but the cooking feeds my soul.
CHEF JAMES: Do you have any strong feelings on whether it is better to get a culinary education first, or is learning 'on the job' still a viable career path for aspiring chefs?
MARK VOGEL: Getting a culinary degree is not as vital to being a chef as other fields of study. There are many chefs nowadays who still succeed by following the traditional path, i.e., starting in a restaurant from a young age and gradually working their way up. A culinary education certainly doesn't hurt though. I think it helps you get your foot in the door. One caveat however......if you plan on teaching or food writing, then the formal instruction will certainly facilitate these endeavors.
CHEF JAMES: What advice would you give to someone in high school who would like to pursue a culinary career?
MARK VOGEL: That would depend on what area of the culinary world they wish to enter. One can become a traditional restaurant chef, a private chef and/or caterer, a food stylist, educator, writer, etc. Chefs work in test kitchens, for TV shows, and schools. It would be wise to try and get some early experience within the specific specialty one is interested in and/or tailor their education along those lines.
CHEF JAMES: Who have been the biggest inspirations throughout your career?
MARK VOGEL: Two chefs, one famous and one not. The famous one is Michael Lomonaco. He had a show in the early days of the Food Network called "Michael's Place." I watched it religiously. I loved his cooking and he really ignited my interest in food. Even without working with him directly I consider him a mentor. I hope I can meet him one day to thank him for what he has contributed to my life. The other was a Hispanic chef named Felix who owned a local Mexican restaurant. His food was fresh, homemade, and the best Latin fare I have ever had. I visited his restaurant almost every week. We had many conversations about food and he taught me how to make a number of different Latin concoctions. He also fueled my passion for cooking.
CHEF JAMES: How do you organize your recipes in your kitchen at home? On a computer, recipe cards, scraps of paper?
MARK VOGEL: All of the above.
CHEF JAMES: Do you have an amusing kitchen incident or secret kitchen disaster to share with us?
MARK VOGEL: Twenty years ago I took my first job in the restaurant business as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant. One day while prepping for lunch I inadvertently filled all the salt shakers in the restaurant with sugar. We didn’t find out until the lunch rush began and people started sprinkling sugar on the food.
CHEF JAMES: When you ask chefs what are their favorite dishes, it seems like nine times out of ten the answer is roast chicken, something very basic. If you were stranded on a desert island for a year surviving on coconuts and seaweed, what would be the first meal you would like to eat after you were rescued? The first beverage?
MARK VOGEL: Rack of Lamb and Bordeaux.
CHEF JAMES: If you were asked to choose 3 cookbooks or books about food to be included in a time capsule to be opened 500 years from now, what 3 would you choose?
MARK VOGEL: That's hard to say. Because of my food writing I have a small library of books at home that I rely on. I guess the ones I use most often are the Food Lover's Companion, Larousse Gastronomique and and Shirley Corriher's Cookwise. All of James Peterson's works deserve mention as well.
CHEF JAMES: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the culinary industry today?
MARK VOGEL: In my personal opinion, dealing with an American public that is increasingly mentally ill about food. No where else in the world do you see the levels of anorexia, bulimia, fat-phobia, vegetarianism, germaphobia, and fanatical activism about banning certain foods. Just last night I spoke with a chef I know who runs a European bistro. He lamented that he has many ideas for his menu but the American public is so laden with issues about food that he is ultimately restricted. Many many people would disagree with me, (nobody admits they're crazy), but as a psychologist as well as a chef, I truly believe that the issues with food in this country are definitely part of our culture's psychopathology.
CHEF JAMES: What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
MARK VOGEL: I would love to get my cooking column syndicated.
CHEF JAMES: Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in the culinary field?
MARK VOGEL: I've spent the last two decades of my life trying to help people with their pain. I've also spent that time bringing people and food/wine together. Although helping people through their struggles is unquestionably a worthwhile endeavor, it's not as gratifying as doing something that directly makes them happy. Feeding people and educating them about food makes them happy. It feeds their bodies as well as their souls, and subsequently nourishes me as well on many different levels.