The series of events that lead John Cagle to become a chef are certainly unexpected. But, he discovered his passion for cooking in a romantic, fit for a Hollywood movie location, France. He grew up in a very small town in Central Illinois and continued his education at Eastern Illinois University, also located in Central Illinois, graduating with English and French degrees. After college, he accepted an assistantship to teach in France, where he lived for the next four years.
The exposure to various foods in France was unlike anything he had experienced before. This inspired him to move back to the states and pursue a culinary degree at The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. Chef John explains his experience at the school was great, as were the teachers and classes. During his time at culinary school, not only did he learn professional skills, he learned how to work as a team within a kitchen. Since then, John has worked in various roles, including Director of Career Services at Le Cordon Bleu Chicago.
Given his unique experience in the culinary world, he’s able to describe the company with a self-described “outside looking in” view. He says College Chefs is “better in every way [than other companies he’s worked with],” when it comes to a corporate hierarchy. In other companies there are, “so many roadblocks to getting things done and approved,” he explains and describes College Chefs as proactive. “It’s a refreshing change [both] personally and professionally.”
A music lover, Chef John plays the guitar, “a little, I’m not great,” he explains laughing. To describe his music taste, he rattled off genres like classic rock, blues, jazz, 80’s and 90’s rock music, and, of course, Led Zepplin.
To learn more about Chef John, read our Q&A with him below.
Q: What is your favorite food to cook?
A: Honestly, I love to cook anything that’s fresh, beautiful and currently of season. In the fall, I like squash and mushrooms, in the winter, root veggies. [...] Anything at that time that’s fresh and seasonal. I love [utilizing] my own garden or a local farmer, it’s exciting! I believe the food you eat needs to be connected to the soil and animals of where you’re from.
Q: What is your favorite food to eat?
A: It’s so hard to pick; I’m fortunate to have lived a lot of places and eaten a lot of food. I can tell you about on of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was at a restaurant called Incanto in San Diego. It was absolutely mind blowing. It was made mostly of animal parts most people are scared of. He (Chris Cosentino, the restaurant owner and chef) had a great vision. I had lamb spleen and it changed my life. [...] I love to be surprised, I’m an adventurous eater. I think it’s really important to be a steward of the land and animal, using every part of the animal, nose to tail.
Q: What’s your favorite food memory?
A: Most of my big food moments came in my early twenties when I was living in France. The first time I tried and oyster, the first time I tried foie gras, all of that happened in France and it’s what drove me to get into the culinary arts. I learned a lot, it was very fun.
Q: What do you do when you’re not cooking?
A: I spend time with my wife and our little dog, getting together with family and friends just hanging out. I read a lot and my wife always finds projects for me to do around the house.
Q: What do you think the next “big thing” in food is going to be?
A: There are a lot of interesting places in the world with undiscovered food and cultures. I think with food media and tv, more and more of small locals and villages will come out of the shadows and the wood work [...] thanks to globalization.
Written by College Chef’s Danielle Gadus