The Chef’s Journey: Advice from 6 Culinary Lifers

JWU alums Angie Armenise, Artie Barrette, Walter Zuromski and Jay Ziobrowski at JWU.

JWU’s College of Culinary Arts recently convened a panel of six working chefs — including four alumni — to share their experiences, speak about their chosen career paths, and discuss strategies for obtaining a dream job in the industry.

Coordinated and moderated by Associate Professor Ray McCue '01, '11 M.Ed., the lively discussion covered a wide range of topics, from influential mentors to their crucial advice for advancing your career right out of the gate. The chefs brought their unique perspectives and life lessons to the table — and were candid about why food can be such a challenging but rewarding field.

The panelists were:

  • Arthur “Artie” Barrette '10, NY Yacht Club (Newport, RI)
  • Angie Armenise '02, Blackie’s Bulldog Tavern (Smithfield, RI)
  • Jay Ziobrowski '01, InHarvest corporate chef, Eastern Region
  • Walter Zuromski '76, Chef Services Group
  • Dave Parisi, Eurest regional executive chef
  • James Connolly, Unidine Corporate senior director of Culinary

Did you have any mentors?
Jay: Chef Aukstolis. I couldn’t stand him when I had him as a teacher, but after the class I realized how much I really learned. He made me a better person.
Dave: When we worked together, Chef McCue and I used to bounce ideas off one another. I learned more about cooking calamari than I needed to know! (laughs) At my next job, the general manager told us, “When you become a leader, hire someone who’s better than you.” That advice really stayed with me. I always look for opportunities to learn and grow from the people on my team.

When you become a leader, hire someone who’s better than you.”

What are the most important qualities you look for in a hire?
Artie: Someone who can take direction, and has a will to learn. As a chef, you’re managing personalities.
Jay: That first impression really matters. You’re always on stage in this job, and attitude is everything.
Dave: This is a hard job. It’s a time to pay dues. I didn’t leave McDonald’s and jump right into a chef job. I worked hard and really applied myself.

The panelists at the event.

How important is networking in this industry?
When I graduated, I moved home to work at a local restaurant for roughly $12K/year. But through networking, I got an interview for a corporate position, and my degree is what got my foot in the door. Then I had to sell myself — I did a bench test, interview, etc. But in 4 months, I went from $12K to $55K, thanks to networking.
Dave: Networking is paramount. In my Contacts I keep notes about everyone I meet.
Artie: Networking is a lost art. Have you heard of doing a stage? Being a stagiaire used to be my favorite thing to do. [A stagiaire is a cook who works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen.] Because every chef — and, by extension, every kitchen — has their own techniques, set of knowledge and way of operating, it can be a very valuable way to see and absorb as much as you can.

Tell me what your typical day looks like.
Walter: There is a fair amount of food science and tech in most of my days. Today I started out at a restaurant client in Cranston where we’re implementing 15-second sous vide poached eggs. Just think how 80 orders of Eggs Benedict at a time can hold up the whole restaurant. With this new sous vide implementation, it speeds things up considerably. They love the sous vide! I wrote up the safety guidelines and Standard Operating Procedure (S.O.P.) on that.
Artie: The first thing I do in the morning is say hello to everyone I work with. At the yacht club we do a big private event business — we might have 200+ covers, 3 meal seatings a day. We work on constant deadlines ... Time management is key!
James: I support 160 chefs across the country. I have my schedule mapped out but emergencies do crop up — schedules are meant to be broken!
Jay: My days are always different, except mornings. I always cook breakfast for my daughter and I also volunteer at her school. Then I check emails at 7am. When I work from home, I always wear my chef coat, because it’s my motivation. I spend roughly 121 days on the road. I love visiting supermarkets to see what people are buying — it’s great market research.

"Surround yourself with an environment that has an infinite amount of talent and wisdom."

What are some emerging trends?
Simplicity in food. One ingredient that’s perfectly prepared. Good ingredients, treated respectfully – and that’s it.
Angie: Healthy, lifestyle-driven foods. We have a “clean living” menu that offers gluten-free, vegan, paleo and keto options. 34% of my business is driven by that — it’s definitely here to stay.
Artie: Style of dining. When I started, I wanted to work in that white-linen dining room. Now it’s all about more casual settings — not fast-casual exactly, but much less formal. Think Alinea — no tablecloths, but so much integrity.
Jay: No food waste is my big push. Only buy what you need!

Crucial advice for aspiring chefs?
Work hard, pay your dues, and be willing to grind.
Apply yourself 100% every day.
Jay: You are going to fail. Just pick yourself up and keep pushing forward, because you WILL succeed.
Artie: Surround yourself with an environment that has an infinite amount of talent and wisdom. You will come out of that more enriched than if you chased dollar signs. Dave: Become an expert at business communication. Learn how to write. Know how to write a proposal.
Jay: Be proud of your degree!