As we continue our series of highlighting our instructors, students, and alumni by telling their stories of successes, aspirations, and inspiration, we sat down with Kali McDermett, a graduate from The Culinary School of Fort Worth in May 2021.
CSFTW: How did you get started in the culinary field and what made you want to come to The Culinary School of Fort Worth?
Kali: The short version of a very long story is that right out of high school I went to ACU for two and a half years and hated it. I took a year off and tried to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go in life. My sister had been telling me for years that I should go to culinary school because I love to cook and be in the kitchen, but that wasn’t the vision that my parents had for me so I never really pursued it. Then, one day, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner for my family, and my sister said it again that I should go to culinary school. At that point I thought, “why not? I should just do it,” so I started looking into schools.
Do you remember what the meal was that you were cooking when you made this decision?
I think it was probably something simple like steak and au gratin potatoes, nothing fancy, but I was working a very stressful job at the time, and at the end of the day, being able to go over to my parents house and cook was so relaxing and brought me a lot of joy. At that point, I started looking at schools in the area and talked to a lot of friends and family in the area that had gone to culinary school. A lot of them wanted me to go to El Centro in Dallas, but I had my heart set on this school. I convinced my parents to go take a tour with me at The Culinary School of Fort Worth with the idea that if it didn’t seem like a good fit we could then go look at El Centro. When we went to the school, they could see how happy I was and how much I wanted to go there, and by the end of the tour they agreed that this was the place for me. We found a way to make it work, and I think it was the best decision I’ve made thus far.
What have you been doing since graduation, and where are you working now?
I work at Lonesome Dove in the Stockyards. Sometimes I’m a line cook; sometimes I’m a prep cook; sometimes I’m doing desserts and salads. Really whatever they need me to do, I will do.
I also work at Brookdale Senior Living in their memory care facility as a cook. It’s a really great job because I pretty much get to cook whatever I want to make whenever I want to make it. It’s like cooking at home. I can take my time doing it, and as long as the food tastes good, there’s really no complaints. I like that job a lot. It’s been very rewarding.
What were some of the skills that you learned at the school that you use in your job now?
Oh my goodness, all of the basics and fundamentals. I didn’t even know how to hold a knife properly going into the school. No one had ever taught me that. So, going into the professional kitchen with those fundamentals gave me a lot of confidence that I really needed. Chef Hitri would always say, “always clean clean dishes” and “always keep your gas tank full” which are simple words of advice but very helpful. There were so many little sayings that all of the chefs would say that have stuck with me. The encouragement that the chefs gave to us as students was amazing. The faculty in general at [CSFTW] was amazing. I really can’t thank them enough for the education that I was able to receive.
What are some of your career aspirations?
My ultimate career goals are to hopefully end up finishing my Bachelor’s degree because I want to become a teacher and teach culinary at the highschool level. While I am earning that degree, I want to continue working in the field and build up my experience. The reason that I want to teach is because when I was in high school, I went to a school where the only route to take after was a traditional four year degree, and then you get your Masters. If you don’t get your PhD, well then you’re just kind of lame. I want to be able to show highschool students that they’re able to explore other options without feeling bad about themselves. Taking the culinary path has opened my eyes to a whole new world that I did not even realize existed, and that has been so rewarding for me. I want other students to have that same realization and be able to pursue their own goals.
Who are some of your inspirations in the kitchen?
Definitely Julia Child. I love her style, her attitude, and just everything about her. I also really look up to my chef at Brookdale right now. She has been such a mentor and inspiration to me since I started working with her. Also, and this might sound weird, but [CSTFW Chefs] Ched and Rosemary. They are the chefs that I want to be.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence about coming to The Culinary School of Fort Worth?
I would say to them that if they are on the fence about it, they won’t make a mistake by coming to this school. It’s nine months of your life in which you will learn so much. I actually learned from Chef Ched that he went to a two-year school, and I started questioning whether or not I should have gone the two-year route, but he told me that the majority of the learning that you do is on the job, and I couldn’t agree more with that. Seeing those people that had the two years of education experience come into work and think that they have an edge on me has made me realize that they don’t at all. So, the majority of the learning that you’re going to do is on the job, but the school gives a great base for that learning. They have an amazing support system at the school, and they do everything they can to help us achieve the goals that we want to. It’s an awesome school, and you’re going to learn a lot.