California Culinary Academy
Thursday, May 6, 1999
Twenty-five years ago, George Hadres was studying biology at San Jose State. Juggling daytime classes with evening shifts spent working front-of-the-house, he discovered that he and the food business shared a natural affinity. It was on one fateful occasion, finding himself promoted to restaurant manager and facing the necessity of firing the chef, that the course of history--or in this case, biology--was changed. "I got in the kitchen and never looked back," he laughs.
As he adjusts the flame on a propane torch, instructing students on how to caramelize a layer of sugar to form the hard-crack crust for crme brle, chef/instructor George Hadres reflects on his career. As the site manager for Salinas College of Food (see article p. 22)since its inception in 1997, he has overseen California Culinary Academy's pilot program that offers students certification in an abbreviated, intensive curriculum in foodservice.
But before Hadres made the switch from restaurants to classrooms, he used the experience he had gained as a chef to take him on an adventure to Greece in search of his ancestral roots. Growing up in a Greek family and familiar with the language, he departed in 1984 to go back to find his grandfather's village. "When I got there, the rush of the connection to the people and the land was so strong, I knew immediately that I wouldn't be returning in six weeks." After meeting the woman who became his wife there, the return trip was nine years in the making.
"I worked all over Athens, and then fortuitously, at the right place in the right time, became the executive chef at a French restaurant on Embassy Row," recalls Hadres. After several years at this position, Hadres determined that it was time to try something completely different. "I decided I didn't want to be in the kitchen--my wife is a fashion designer--so I became a tailor." He declared himself on sabbatical from the kitchen. Then, in 1992 with wife and child in tow, Hadres returned to California to put a new twist on his earlier career.
Asked to come on board as an instructor for a nonprofit vocational training program in Redwood City, Hadres accepted. Integral in shaping a culinary program that became a successful, student-managed restaurant facility, he next saw an opportunity with CCA and was invited to join their teaching staff in San Francisco. The chance to head up the prototype for a new concept in culinary education in Salinas was one that Hadres couldn't pass up. And, as a publicly traded corporation listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, it's a business that is poised to grow.
"This is a fantastic time to choose a culinary career. There's just so much more that is available to students coming into the field now," he attests. "There's the whole idea of meal replacement--opportunities to work for several families, supplying their meals as a private caterer. There's food styling and journalism careers. And in the next few years, someone with a bachelor's degree in food science and nutrition that knows how to cook is going to be a real valuable commodity."
And then, of course, there's teaching. "I became a much better chef when I became a teacher," Hadres muses. "You pay much more attention to the processes. I tell my students to take pride in the uniforms they wear. As chefs, we have just as much responsibility for the people we feed as doctors or dentists do for their patients. And it's through education that we are able to raise the level of professionalism to new standards."
California Culinary Academy
Salinas College of Food
631 E. Alvin Dr., Salinas, 442-2227