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Classically trained chef shares love of cooking with students

Chef McCarley loves challenging his students.
Neil McCarley

Where is a good place to find a great group of talented chefs? Well, a culinary school would be a logical place to start. More specifically, The Culinary Institute of Platt College has many talented chefs that are more than willing and capable of teaching tomorrow’s culinary professionals. Chef Neil McCarley is one of those extremely gifted individuals. Since I recently did a four month culinary stage (internship) at Platt, I became acquainted with most of the chefs there.

Starting as a dishwasher in an upscale in restaurant near Tiffin OH, he eventually moved into salad prep and began helping the executive chef with an ala carte Sunday brunch. He worked there all through high school.

He enjoyed that experience so much, he eventually went to The Culinary Institute of America from ‘85-’87.

“It was an awesome experience,” he relayed, while munching on an apple.

In those days, Most of the instructors did an apprenticeship instead of having formal education.

“From a young age, they would work under a chef from a specific discipline. So in other words, a pastry chef would have apprenticed under another pastry chef.”

He said that since the instructors were from all over the world, language could be a problem.

“They all spoke English, but not real good. However, you knew when they were yelling at you; that was one thing for sure. In fact, it was not uncommon for the chefs to call you out in front of everyone and embarrass you. It was not uncommon for them to even throw things across the kitchen. That’s just the way they did things. We feared those guys, we were scared to death of them,” he said.

“We had one instructor named Corky Clark, who taught American Regional Cooking. He was a Navy chef and a real ball-buster.”

“I bet no one gave him a hard time about his name,” I laughed.

“No,” was the simple and immediate answer.

Even though it was a tough couple of years, it was a great experience for him.

Recalling some of those memories of his own culinary school experiences made him reflect and contrast the way things are at Platt, where he has taught culinary classes since 2010, starting shortly after the culinary school opened.

When I asked him what his favorite part about teaching his answer again was short and sweet – “the students.”

"Seeing that light go off in their heads when they finally really understand something is a great thing."

He continued, “When somebody really knows how to do something, I think that’s impressive. They can always talk like they know what they’re doing, but then they can’t always back it up. If they can actually back it up, that impresses me.”

From there, I launched into my series of regular questions that always elicit some very interesting and varied answers. I first asked about his favorite ingredient and he didn’t hesitate at all.

“Pate choux (pastry dough) because it is so versatile,” was his answer.

So, does this talented, very personable chef with beautiful blue eyes have a least favorite ingredient?

Yep, in fact he has two.

Truffles and cilantro tie as his least favorite foods. He despises the taste of truffles and like many people, he thinks cilantro tastes like dish soap.

When he’s cooking at home his favorite meal to fix is braised cubed steaks, mashed potatoes and creamed corn. And when cooking at home, he likes to keep things simple, so he uses Campbell’s Golden Mushroom Soup and Sam’s brand brown gravy mix as part of the sauce.

His biggest influences in the kitchen include chefs Joseph Fulk and Tom Arnold who were at his first job in Ohio. Although they did not go to The CIA, they inspired him to want to go. Another chef, Michael Gyado, who came to the restaurant later, did attend The Culinary Institute of America.

If he could cook anything for anybody, he would want to make a greasy cheeseburger for Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones.

When talking to Chef McCarley. It’s obvious that he is passionate about food, whether he is cooking it himself or sharing his knowledge and experience with others through teaching.

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