Katie Weinner knew she wanted to be a teacher. She loved the idea of passing on wisdom and valuable information to people eager to learn. As a result, she went to college, worked hard, and earned Psychology and English degrees, as well as a teaching credential for K-12. She also loved snowboarding, so after college she went to Tahoe, where she worked as a substitute teacher until she could find a permanent teaching position.

Everything seemed to fall into place for Katie except for two things: One, she wanted to snowboard during the day and work at night. But since public school insisted on keeping bankers’ hours, being a teacher didn’t quite fit with that plan. And two, after subbing in high school a few times Katie discovered she didn’t really like teaching after all—at least not teenagers.

Back to School

So at her mother’s urging (“Why are you in education if you don’t like teaching kids?”) Katie decided to switch careers midstream. She’d always been intrigued by good food and cooking, so she moved to Vancouver, B.C., and enrolled in culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver (NWCAV), where she received a culinary diploma that allowed her to work in restaurants as a professional chef.

After graduation Katie once again went to Tahoe (to snowboard, of course) where she got a job working as a chef at The PlumpJack Café in Squaw Valley, one of Tahoe’s premier dining destinations. For five years Katie soaked up her kitchen confidential experiences faster than a baguette on a plate of olive oil. “The PlumpJack Cafe is known for its seasonal menus, exceptional wines, and creative use of unique and locally-grown ingredients,” says Katie. “It was the perfect place to continue my training after culinary school. I learned so much about regional cooking and fine dining by working in that kitchen. I can’t say enough good things about it.”

A Teacher Rediscovers Her Passion…in the Kitchen

But even though she’d given up on education as a career, the idea of being a teacher still quietly lingered in the back of Katie’s mind. So when an opportunity to become an instructor came up at the culinary school of the Art Institute of Salt Lake City, she jumped at the chance. “It turns out I really did love teaching after all,” reflects Katie, “as long as I got to teach a subject I was passionate about to a classroom of adults who wanted to be there.” Katie soon discovered it was vocational adult education that she was cut out for, not being a high school English teacher. “At the Art Institute I teach everything,” she says enthusiastically, “from molecular cooking to Asian and Latin cuisine to pastry class to safety and sanitation. I love it all!”

And good thing, too, because once Katie found her passion, the culinary students of the Art Institute benefited. Katie’s goal is to get her students to think outside the box so they can make the most interesting dishes possible with the options available. “I consider my classroom a laboratory that I get to share with my students,” she says. “I’m constantly experimenting.” Katie has been known to bring in hay (as an ingredient for ice cream, for example), aji chilis, wheat grass, heirloom beans, nasturtiums, whatever she can get her hands on. She scours the farmers markets from Salt Lake to Oakland to find the most unique ingredients and then uses her adventurous spirit to inspire her students to come up with bold culinary ideas of their own. For example, “Recently one of our purveyors came into position of alligator meat!” she exclaimed. “So I snapped it up, took it to class and asked ‘What is the most exciting dish you think we could make with alligator meat?’ My students were so motivated by the challenge of using such an exotic ingredient they couldn’t wait to get started.”

So does Katie have any regrets about going back to school to become a chef? “None,” she says proudly. “Culinary school was the best thing for me. I have the best job. Now my career combines two things I love; cooking and teaching adults.” Katie may have taken the long way to find her way to her perfect career, but no one can deny it was the most delicious route possible.

Be sure to check out Katie Weinner’s blog Kitchen-Unconfidential. And get free information about online degrees in culinary arts on classesandcareers.com!

2 comments on “A Teaching Career Saved by Culinary School

  • I always tell my daughters to just make a choice based on their best knowledge and desire. If it doesn’t work out, choose again, don’t stay stuck.

  • Katie is one of the hardest working people I have ever worked with in the kitchen. It has been a pleasure to watch her career in the culinary arts blossom. Her enthusiasm, personality and knowledge make for the perfect teacher!

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