Sherry Gaynor, Chef Instructor at St. Johns Academy of Culinary Arts in Florida
Sherry Gaynor, Chef Instructor at St. Johns Academy of Culinary Arts in Florida.
Today you are Chef Instructor at St. Johns Academy of Culinary Arts in Florida, with a great track of experiences. When did this journey as chef begin? What drove you to become a chef?
I began my journey as a chef immediately after graduating high school. I enrolled in Culinary school in my hometown of New Orleans after letting my family talk me out of taking a bus to San Francisco with no real good reason and no life plan. My aunt knew I loved to cook and convinced me to enroll.
Which cooking school did you visit first?
I did not visit any schools. My father enrolled me at Delgado Community College and I attended a 3-year apprenticeship program, accredited by the American Culinary Federation. I extended my apprenticeship for an additional 4th year, under the tutelage of Chef Kevin Graham, at the Windsor Court Hotel. I served 2 years apprenticing at the Fairmont Hotel and 2 years in the Windsor Court.
How would you describe your culinary line as Chef Instructor today?
I have what you would call a Culinary line of professionals. I train students for the industry. I currently teach high school-aged students in St. Johns Academy of Culinary Arts.
My line of professionals learn the business end of food through the ProStart Curriculum, accredited by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation. We cater to on and off-campus events, and do charity work, feeding homeless and migrant workers in our city.
You gained chef teaching experiences as Chef Instructor at The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. How did you come up with this way to become a Chef Instructor?
I began teaching for First Coast Technical College in the summer of 2000, when I moved to Florida. I left the business as Pastry Chef to teach so that I could share a common schedule with my son. I worked as an adjunct instructor for almost 3 years, when a position opened. I was assigned to teach at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and spent nearly 12 years in that position.
I worked primarily with students who were hearing impaired, and practiced and studied American Sign Language (ASL) and reached fluency after 2-3 years. I worked in the first couple of years with an interpreter. I taught secondary level and trained students for the industry and catered occasionally.
What is the fascination at this great job Chef Instructor?
I enjoy working as a Culinary Educator because there is truly no greater joy than sharing knowledge and skills and watching people grow and learn. It is the most gratifying work. My heart is full of joy at work; I watch people succeed and develop professionally.
Any place in the world you would like to gain experiences/ work as chef or Chef Instructor?
I would like to work in France.
Being a chef and chef instructor is a great job. What are your ideas to make this job more attractive for young students?
I think it’s important for young students to identify where their greatest strengths are and recognize their own learning styles. There are SO many avenues that can be explored in the field of Culinary Arts and having the ability to recognize where you can best succeed and be happy is key.
Many people who gravitate toward the kitchen tend to be kinesthetic, visual-spacial sense oriented and are able to work hard. The one thing I always notice about kitchens, any kitchen, is there is laughter. It’s a fun place to work and the brigade is a family.
If you would open one day your own small and specialized restaurant, where would it be and what it offer?
It would be downtown St. Augustine, I don’t want to give away my idea 😉
Can you share some of your most successful and some of your latest recipes as chef instructor?
Sure! I am happy to share recipes. The latest thing I’ve done is prepare Parisian crepes at a local event called Taste of St. Augustine.
- 1 egg
- 1 c. milk
- 3 oz. all-purpose flour
- ½ oz butter
- dash salt
- dash sugar
- dash vanilla
- combine milk, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, using whip
- sift in flour, stirring constantly
- add melted butter
- cook over medium heat until lightly browned, turn
- add drizzle of nutella and choice of banana slices, strawberry slices, or combination
*alternative, add macerated strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry with sprinkle of lemon juice and lob of brie cheese
- fold crepe into wedge shape (half and then half again), sprinkle with powdered sugar
How do you come up with new recipes/ what inspires you?
It depends, for the last year, I have been very inspired by street foods around the world. I went to France last year and was inspired by the street-style crepes, which is how I chose my menu for the most recent event I worked. I teach International cooking to my students, so this year we have been serving various international street foods.
Bio, local, seasonal have been trends which became part of reality at good restaurants. What are the next trends you see?
Ocean-farming. Deconstruction of foods, beyond what we’ve already seen.
Beside your Chef Instructor job, you worked over 3 years as Food Writer. Can you tell us something about this job?
I wrote for a local magazine, writing recipes and a corresponding article, that included technical details, history, and personal anecdotes. I am working toward more experience food-writing; it is something I enjoy.
As Chef Instructor at St. Johns Academy of Culinary Arts, what is your teaching focus?
My focus is teaching students both technical skills and “soft” skills, work ethic and professionalism. Our curriculum is designed by our state frameworks and include lessons across 6 progressive levels. Students begin learning food safety and sanitation, then progress to learn all business aspects of Culinary Arts, such as cost control, purchasing and receiving, marketing, human resources, and banquet design.
The foods we cook start with fundamentals, stocks, soups, sauces, breakfast foods, garde manger, baking and pastry. We cater and practice menu design and banquet planning, working front and back-of-the-house. Teamwork, hard-work, and high-quality food is the main focus of my class.
Thank you for your insights, Sherry!