Interview with Chef David Pantone, Dean of Culinary Education at Florida Culinary Institute

August 11, 2000

With a 23-year background in the hospitality industry, Chef David Pantone is an award-winning pastry chef, master planner, writer, dynamic teacher, administrator, marketing whiz and manager who is as comfortable in front of a TV camera or radio mike as he is in the kitchen. For the past five years, he has been Dean of Culinary Education at Florida Culinary Institute, where he administers the Culinary Arts, International Baking and Pastry and Food & Beverage Management programs.

During his career, Chef Pantone has been associated with some of the country's most outstanding restaurants and resorts located in New York and Florida, including serving as Executive Pastry Chef for The Breakers on Palm Beach, a Five Star/Five Diamond luxury resort, as well as Lucky's and Chef Allen's, both top Miami Beach restaurants.

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Chef Pantone is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and of Florida International University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management. He also sits on many educational and professional advisory boards and committees and appears weekly on a local NBC affiliate's morning news program where he introduces new products and cooking methods.

Chef David Pantone & His Career   |   The Actual Work   |   Career / Job Info. & Advice   |   Education Info. & Advice   |   Industry Trends   |   Closing Remarks


CHEF DAVID PANTONE & HIS CAREER Tell us how your career as a chef unfolded.

David Pantone: I am the sixth of seven children born into an Italian-American family in Pittsburgh PA. We had a very large extended family of many aunts, uncles and cousins. Whenever we were together, whether for a marriage, funeral, birthday or holiday dinner there was always an element food present. And the food was always great tasting and plentiful. Food was, and still is a great comforter. It gives you something to do, something to talk about, and something to give when emotions are difficult to put into words. The kitchen is the place where all of this love, comfort and security comes together. At fourteen, I wanted to earn some money to do the things that all teenagers like to do. I took a job as a dishwasher and really liked the whole professional setting. I did a good job and the Chef trained me. I moved to a few other restaurants and learned from some of the best Chefs in Pittsburgh. I decided that I wanted to make this line of work my career so I went to the Culinary Institute of America for formal training. There I fell in love with my wife and my specialty, Baking and Pastry.

From school I went to work as Assistant Pastry Chef at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan, and Pastry Chef at the Hotel Intercontinental, Mayfair House and Superior Bakery in Miami, and Chef Allen's and Lucky's in North Miami Beach and South Beach. Next I was Executive Pastry Chef at the Five Star-Five Diamond Breakers of Palm Beach. Florida Culinary Institute recruited me to become the Department Chair of their International Baking and Pastry program and I worked my way up to Dean of the school. Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

DP: At the start of my career my biggest inspirations were some of my first Chefs: Justin Wagner, David McKinney, and Jim Miller. They taught me how to cook, season and think like a Chef. Later, Pastry Chef Walter Schreyer was my Pastry mentor. He taught me that pastry, and life need not be complicated; stick to the basics. Today industry professionals like Norman Love and Ewald Notter inspire me. Daily, I am inspired by the Chef Instructors and Students of Florida Culinary Institute. Everyday, something new is being created and a new career is being developed. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?

DP: I love to eat. I love to taste. I love mix and match flavors, textures and aromas. The freedom to create and to experiment is always exciting to me. What was your greatest success and biggest setback?

DP: I have always participated in many different projects. I feel that the more activities that you do, the greater number of successes you will have. I always have my eye on my next success. So I'm sure that my greatest success is still in my future. I have won contests, built giant cakes, been on TV and earned degrees. But I have also lost contests (but learned) and have been passed over for recognition (but learned). If the successes outnumber the setbacks, you win. What have you done right that has made your career such a success and brought you recognition, media attention, and awards?

DP: Skills and talent will are only the starting point for a successful career. Attitude, respect for others and an unending desire to learn and improve are what will propel and sustain success. I listen when people talk and learn what I can from everyone.


THE ACTUAL WORK What exactly do chefs do?

DP: Chefs are managers. They manage food, people, dinning experiences, and money. It's that simple, and that complicated. What are the tools of the trade you use most?

DP: Today the tools that I use most are my computer, my telephone, my experience and my wit. What are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Why?

DP: Garlic Press. It allows me you get to that precious morsel faster. What is your specialty and why did you choose it?

DP: My specialty is Baking and Pastry. I choose it because I had plenty of cooking experience before I went to school and was excited to experiment in an area where I had no background. What are some common myths about chefs?

DP: The usual stereotypes of Chefs are: fat, drunk, temperamental, workaholic, creative, foulmouthed, foreign, men. All of these are true some of the time, but none of these are true all of the time. Today's educated professional will not put up with this reputation. Each day we teach that the Chef is a leader. Leader of the kitchen, the community and the future of the foodservice industry. Soon these myths will become legends and then be forgotten. We must address these issues as they are presented instead of accepting them. We will break the cycle. If we want to be recognized as professionals, we must act the part. How much of your work is done outside of the kitchen?

DP: As Dean of Culinary Education, most of my work is done outside of the kitchen. I split my time between meetings, TV studios, teaching /teacher evaluations, speaking engagements, seminars, business lunches, counseling students. What are some of the skills that help all chefs succeed?

DP: Good speaker, good listener, ability to think with an open mind, good study habits, attention to detail, read, write, set goals, persistence, manage stress. How important are certifications in the profession, such as Executive Chef or Master Chef?

DP: Certifications demonstrate that you have the ability to set and reach goals. Skilled cooking and baking are only part of certification process. A certification candidate must also demonstrate successful educational experiences and extensive work experience at prescribed level. For our industry to maintain and expand our professional status, certification must be adopted unilaterally. Tell us about where you work. What do you like most, least?

DP: What I like most about working at Florida Culinary Institute is that the administration, staff, faculty and students all operate at such a high professional level that the work environment is always positive and exciting. The high energy level is maintained and propitiated and results in great morale. A bad day at FCI is better than most good days at other companies. (This atmosphere took much work to create.)


CAREER / JOB INFORMATION & ADVICE How much are chefs generally paid? Are they generally paid by the hour or by salary?

DP: The salary range is great. Pays differ due to geographic location of the establishment, length and level of work experience of the Chef, reputation of the Chef, sales revenue of the establishment. They are always paid salary. How important is it to create & maintain relationships within the culinary profession? If it is, how do you do it?

DP: Networking is one of the most important tools to professional growth. When you put yourself in a room of your peers, set aside any egos, open your mind and ask questions, you are sure to learn valuable information. Use this information and then teach it to your staff and to others. Or you can just keep on thinking that you know everything and as the rest of the world progresses, you will become a dinosaur. What are the best ways to find a job as a chef?

DP: Food purveyors are the gossip columnists of our industry. They usually know of an opening before it happens. Also the Internet is a resource. Graduates of Florida Culinary Institute have the benefit of life long placement assistance. How can graduating culinary arts students gain an advantage in their job search?

DP: Research the companies so that they know as much as possible about the potential employer. Volunteer to work a charity benefit with the hiring Chef. Put yourself in the right place at the right time. That usually means at a Professional Chefs Meeting. Network and don't be shy. How is the job market right now for culinary professionals? How do you think it will be in the next five years? 10 years?

DP: The market is still on a great upswing. The demand for well trained professional staff will continue to increase through the next five to ten years.


EDUCATION INFORMATION & ADVICE What is your degree in and where did you get it?

DP: AOS - Culinary Arts - Culinary Institute of America
BS - Hospitality Management - Florida International University What did you like and dislike about your culinary education?

DP: Likes: Becoming independent. Moving out on my own. Exposure to a wide variety of food, drink and people. Dislikes: Classes too short. Teacher didn't care to know you, your name, your skills, your strengths, or your weaknesses. Chef Instructors were poor Teachers. Too much production, not enough focused on learning what you were cooking. School is for learning, work is for production. What factors did you consider when choosing a school of culinary arts or culinary department?

DP: It was the only game in town at that time. Luckily, today there are many choices. Was your culinary education worth it for you? Why?

DP: Yes. It really opened up my eyes and mind to the options available. For those who have the talent already, should they go to culinary school and why?

DP: Talent might make you a good cook. Education makes you a good Chef. What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the culinary arts?

DP: Start eating different foods. Start exploring the grocery store. Read the food section of the newspaper. Watch food TV shows. Cook at home. If you are still interested, go to school and get an entry-level job. Is there a major difference in the industry between graduating from a prestigious culinary school and graduating from a college with a culinary program?

DP: There are many excellent programs in the world. But it is not a building, or campus, or price tag that makes a graduate successful. It is a combination of the student's personality, (which comes from his or her upbringing); the Chef Instructors approach to personalized attention, and the school's commitment to providing excellence in education. Florida Culinary Institute lives by these standards. What should culinary arts students try to get out of their school?

DP: Everything short of the kitchen sink. Confidence, networking, skills, knowledge, techniques, personal growth, professional growth, professional ethics, exposure to the industry. What factors should prospective culinary arts students consider when choosing their school?

DP: Reputation, Instructor's industry experience, word of mouth from current students and graduates, facility, interview a teacher.


INDUSTRY TRENDS What are some trends that you see in the field of culinary arts that might help prospective students?

DP: The foodservice industry is experience a great wave of popularity. Consumers are dining out more often and are bringing food home more often. All of these factors are increasing the demand for well-trained professionals. This drives up the salaries and the opportunities. How has advancing technology affected the culinary profession?

DP: Technology allows us to work smarter instead of harder. What role do computers and the Internet play in the every day life of a chef?

DP: As a manager, the Chef utilizes the computer in many of the same ways as a traditional business manager. Inventory stock, schedule personnel, monitor and control costs, forecast revenues, manage information, generate reports.


CLOSING REMARKS 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 as a chef?

DP: Traditionally, a Chef works long, hard hours. Although this remains as true today as it did one hundred years ago, today's well-trained Chef may utilize technology, management skills, and business skills to lessen the workload. The Chef must make time to spend with friends, family and non-work related interests in order to be effective at work. Proper balance between work and play creates a healthy and happy Chef.

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