Hey everyone, it’s Kylie Sullivan again.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Ian McKinstry. Chef McKinstry is the College Chefs Area Manager of the Pacific Northwest.
A California native, McKinstry was raised in the kitchen. From staying up all night making pastries with his classically-trained-chef father, to driving through the valley smelling the variety of sweet aromas the orchards had to offer, food has always been a part of his life.
Read my full Q&A below with Chef McKinstry to learn more about his family traditions, his motivation, and his simple love and appreciation for food.
Q: Chef Ian, tell me a little about what you’re doing now in your career with College Chefs.
A: For College Chefs, I’ll have the Pacific Northwest area. I’m getting to hire and meet a lot of the chefs in the area who I haven’t met yet. I’m working with them making sure they’re doing what they do best, making sure that we’ve got the right people in place, and keeping them encouraged and passionate about what they’re doing. Keeping our chefs happy is really going to encourage them to do their best and keep their creative juices flowing. We’re here to support them more than anything. They are really the ground floor of the company.
Q: Will you describe the city and neighborhood you grew up in?
A: I grew up in Modesto, California, right in the middle of Central California. It is just a heavy agricultural area. The valley there is so diverse in what it grows. As a kid, we had beautiful grapefruit, an orange tree, a Meyer lemon tree, and more. Everything that grows, it is so fragrant. Almost every time I come across something like that when I drive back through California it just evokes all of these memories of driving through orchards during the summer time and smelling the peaches or jasmine, and all the lavender that grows there. It’s an area that’s so rich in agriculture that all my early food memories are tied back to. My dad was a classically trained chef. All of the dishes I grew up cooking had a really close tie to that area I was from in the valley.
Q: What was the first job you ever had? What kind of impact did it have on your working life?
A: Child labor, mostly (he jokes.) My dad had a catering business. We would look for any excuse to stay up all night and make French pastries. When we had a family member coming in to town you would think we were feeding kings and queens… it was a 2-day event of seriously getting down in the kitchen. The old man would blast the classical music and we’d go wild all night making pastries and staying up the whole next day making food. Holidays were more about everybody getting together in the kitchen and putting together food than it was ever usually about the actual holiday. Christmas time was usually about spending time around the kitchen, not the Christmas tree.
Q: What do you think is the biggest myth about chef life?
A: In my experience, opening a lot of restaurants and using large staff, I’ve been able to take a lot of externs and interns from a lot of schools over the past 10 years now and I think the biggest things that I’ve noticed in the way that the food culture is now is that it’s a really glamorous profession. I think that there has been a definite change in media with the food network, food driven shows, and being able to use social media to share this stuff all the time. I think also we’re seeing now, something I’m happy to see, that chefs are becoming more of a person in the community that takes responsibility for feeding people and really learning about ingredients and nutritional value, and becoming an educator and an all around more involved person. Bringing people together for a common cause, or for no good reason at all other than to see each other’s face… It’s all about building community.
Q: What do you feel is your biggest driving factor to your success?
A: I was really fortunate to grow up in a home like I did and I’m really grateful being in that environment growing up. I learned a lot, not just about the technical aspects of how to prepare and make food, but building that sense of community. Why we were doing that. Putting all the blood sweat and tears into it, it was more the why than the how. I think no matter what level of cooking you’re doing, all good food has to come from something or somewhere that means something to you. No matter who you are or what level you are cooking at, it has to come from somewhere. The food is always very telling of where it came from. I think that’s really important. Also, I think that I’ve always challenged myself to always learn something, always be learning, and always learn as much as I could from the people that I have been very fortunate to work with and to keep that going no matter where I was or what I was working with. I’ve always tried to draw from a situation the most that I could get from it.
Q: If you could dine with anyone once, who would that be?
A: The dining experience definitely includes whom you’re dining with. I think that it would be really interesting to eat with a monk who just eats an Ayurvedic diet, just to sustain himself. Each food serves a specific purpose and to me I find it appealing and interesting. There are actually great chefs that work in some of the monasteries now that still follow some of those guidelines.
Q: What would you want your last meal to be?
A: Something simple and easy. Just give me a nice PB & J.
McKinstry has been with College Chefs for over 3 years now; furthermore, he was promoted to the College Chefs Management Team last March, starting out as a Trainer.
Director of Operations, Chef Jared Bost, says, “Ian has been a rock for us since he started with College Chefs. His skill as a Chef, his creativity, passion, & consistency are all through the roof. We are looking forward to his continued ascension as a Chef and as part of our Management Team.”
“We’re lucky to have great people such as Ian on our team,” Bost concludes.
By College Chefs’ Kylie Sullivan