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Chef School at 40: My First Day

back to school career change john stephano Apr 08, 2009

by John Stephano

photo by Salah Jalal

At 40, former investment advisor John Stephano is following his dream, going back to school at the Culinary Institute of America

One would think 20 years in the professional working world would be overwhelming enough experience to coast through the exercise of returning to college. Well for me the start of a new dream was quite the challenge. 

My journey toward being the best somewhere in the culinary world had to blast off somewhere. I chose the Culinary Institute of America as my launching pad.  However, it felt a bit like freshmen year all over again (as in high school!). Everything was brand new, from the crisp white chef’s coats that needs to be pressed everyday to the toques (chef’s hats) that make us appear so talented. I was so nervous that first day of orientation. 

When you feel overwhelmed like I did launching this dream of mine, it is so easy to be that freshman in high school who just desperately wants not to be noticed. Your body freezes and your mind races. From Day One I questioned every choice I had made up to this point in my journey to get here. 

However, experience is a funny thing. Unlike the freshman in high school, many of us have built up all kinds of skills and experience to combat those fears and reservations. What did I do? Well on that first day I dug deep and attempted to parallel this day with many from my most recent professional past.  

What gives me or anyone going back to school after many years the competitive edge is the ability to use life’s challenges and experiences as a foundation. I’ve been in this position before. I will succeed not because I am the smartest or the most talented but because I have committed myself to taking charge of my life and my life’s passion. It should be one heck of a ride!


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