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Vicki Davenport – Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts

© Vicki Davenport

Vicki Davenport is the Executive Chef at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, St Louis.  She holds a Bachelors degree in Corporate and Industrial Communication and a Masters degree in Business Administration from Lindenwood University.  After a fifteen year career in purchasing and inventory control, she studied Culinary Arts at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.  Chef Davenport has worked in the Pastry Departments at The University Club, St. Louis Country Club, and The Gatesworth where she created the Pastry Department and served as Pastry Chef.  Before coming to Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis, Chef Davenport taught Advanced Baking and Pastry, Cost Control and Purchasing at L’Ecole Culinaire St. Louis.  She was awarded “Junior Chef of the Year” in 2005 by the Chefs de Cuisine Association of St. Louis and has won ACF medals in both hot food and Knowledge Bowl competitions.  Chef Davenport coached the St. Louis ACF Knowledge Bowl Team which won two National Championships and four ACF Central Region Competitions under her guidance.

Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome to OpenBeast. Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Although I’m the Executive Chef at Le Cordon Bleu, my background is in Baking and Patisserie.  I’m a career-changer and I tell my students that it’s never too late to do what you love for a living.  I currently supervise 15 Chef Instructors and the Associate Registrar of the college.  I don’t teach on a regular basis, but I interact with our students daily.

How and why did you enter the culinary profession?

I was working as the Purchasing Manager for a luggage company in September of 1991 and taking culinary classes at the local community college for fun.  After 9/11, there was a sharp decline in travel which led my employers to eliminate my position as well as many of my co-workers.  I realized that no matter what the economy was like, people needed to eat.  I decided to follow my passion for cooking and set out to forge a career in the culinary industry.

What is a culinary school all about?

Culinary school is a place of learning.  It’s not like “Hell’s Kitchen”—we don’t yell at you when you make mistakes.  We teach our students the foundations of cooking with the expectation that they will continue their education throughout their career.  There is no culinary school that can claim to teach a student everything they need to know in order to be successful in the kitchen—it’s just not feasible.  The quest for culinary knowledge is a lifelong pursuit.

As a chef, what’s your vision for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, St. Louis?

My vision is for Le Cordon Bleu to be recognized as the premier source of professional cooks who receive the highest value education in the culinary industry.  There is no greater joy then having a student tell you they landed their dream job!

What are your personal strengths and how did those help you in your professional success?

I would have to say that my biggest strengths are my sense of humor, my attention to detail, and my competitive nature.  All three of these attributes have helped me achieve the level of professional success that I currently enjoy.  The culinary profession can be very stressful—long days and nights that are physically demanding in hot kitchens.  It helps to have a great sense of humor so that the stress doesn’t wear you down.  As a Pastry Chef, one of the most important skills is attention to detail.  Cooks can throw a little of this and a bit of that in a pot and create something that tastes great—but baking is a science.  Pastry Chefs must carefully scale out all ingredients and combine them in the right order to ensure success.  Finally, my love of competition has helped me rise to the top of my profession.

In this uncertain economy, what’s the biggest challenge your students face?

The biggest challenge my students face is being able to make it to school every day.  Many of my students live over an hour or more away from the school and with the cost of fuel they find it a real challenge having enough money for their commute.  Luckily, our school is a great environment and our students really connect with one another.  Many have been able to form carpools or share housing.  The Days Inn down the street from the school houses many of our students at a discounted rate.  Many of our students are so committed to their education that they won’t let anything stand in their way!

What is the significance of a chef’s white cap?

The chef’s cap is called a toque and it’s white because it looks cleanly.  There are many theories behind the significance of the toque, but my favorite is that the height of your toque corresponded with your rank.  Sauce cooks and bakers wore little more than a cap, the supervising chefs had a beret or a small pleated toque, and the head chef donned a towering toque of starched white, with pleats numbering the ways he knew how to cook an egg (up to 100 pleats). This “hat hierarchy” continues in some form in kitchens today.

What are your favorite free time activities?

I love to cook for my friends and family.  I recently started canning and I love making jams and jellies. I love to bake bread when the weather gets chilly and I hope to take some cheese making classes.  I also enjoy spending free time with my two dogs—Honey and Lucky.

Any advice for want-to-be-chefs?

Check your ego at the door!  No chef wants to hire a know-it-all.  I would rather hire the young, inexperienced cook who shows up on time every day and is eager to learn than the talented cook who lives like a rock star and you never know if or when they’ll show up for work.

Thank you.

To learn more about Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, St Louis, visit http://www.chefs.edu/St-Louis

 

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