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North Tech Graduate Whips Up Career

Blend of Art, Science Provide Perfect Recipe for Success

Who would have thought that a love of food and cooking passed from a grandmother to her 6-year-old grandson would blossom into a lifelong passion for cooking and a career in culinary arts?

Andrew Schmitt, a 2005 graduate of Lafayette and North Technical high schools, says he remembers sitting on his grandmother’s lap and watching Julia Child on PBS as a young child. The two would then spend hours in the kitchen trying to recreate various recipes.

“I look back at those years, I blink, and they’re gone,” Schmitt said. “But I can remember it clearly. I just always loved cooking with her and watching those shows.”

But Schmitt’s love of cooking doesn’t stop with good-tasting food that is pleasing to the eye. He has started down a path to make a career out of focusing on the health, nutrition and science behind the art form he loves.

Schmitt earned his associate’s degree in culinary arts at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky., before pursuing his Bachelor of Arts degree in culinary arts and nutrition at Johnson & Wales University, one of the premiere culinary arts schools in the country. Schmitt attended the Johnson & Wales campus in Denver, Co., and graduated in May 2009. In spring 2010, he finished an internship through Cox College of Health Sciences. The highly competitive program only accepts 11 graduate students each year from across the country.

In June, Schmitt, who is a certified chef, started his career as a nutrition educator with the St. Louis District Dairy Council.

Schmitt says his days at North Tech gave him a good foundation and started him on the right path to pursue his dream. Schmitt recently took a few minutes to sit down and reflect on his time at North Tech and outline his plans for the future.

What did you like about the culinary arts program at North Tech?
Without North Tech I wouldn’t be where I am today. It opened the door for colleges, which led me to my associate’s degree, my bachelor’s degree and is now leading me down the path to my master’s degree. Most schools expect at least six to 12 months of kitchen experience to apply.

How did you decide to combine culinary arts with nutrition?

When I attended North Tech I was like every other student. I wanted to open my own restaurant. But real world experience working in restaurants made me realize that’s not what I wanted to do the rest of my life. What we eat has such an impact on our quality of life. There’s so much that can be learned and that can make a difference in nutrition and the health of the world, not just the nation. When you look at different countries and cultures and their differences in quality of life and life expectancy you can’t help but draw a connection to the types of food they eat.

Why did you choose Johnson & Wales to pursue your bachelor’s degree?
We were able to study athletic cuisine, spa cuisine, things like that. That’s why I chose that program because it wasn’t just cooking or just nutrition. It melds the science of the nutrition with the art form of cooking and plating (presentation).

What area of culinary arts and nutrition interest you most?
I hope to someday go on and get my master’s degree in pediatrics. Children are still growing and the effects of nutrition on their growth, health, and quality of life is so important. Teaching them while they’re young to instill lifelong habits is so beneficial. Trends show that one in three adolescents in 2012 will be overweight. With that prediction, we have to do something about it. If we start young with education we can change the future.

Describe your role as nutrition educator with the St. Louis District Dairy Council.

I work with schools and students to ensure children’s nutritional needs are being met. We reach out to schools, communities and health care professionals. I educate them about the importance of dairy in the diet. I enjoy meeting with and working with the schools. To see students choosing milk over soda or choosing yogurt and cheese over a bag of potato chips is an amazing thing. It’s those little things that are going to add up in improving the diet and health of the individual.

What advice do you have for students currently enrolled in SSD’s culinary arts programs?
Keep an open mind. They set you up wonderfully with the basics of culinary arts. From there, you have endless opportunities.
Andrew Schmitt
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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