New ICI program director looks to spice things up

ICI’s new program director, Chef John Andres chops thyme in the Bistro kitchen.

Iowa Culinary Institute’s new program director, Chef John Andres, almost led a very different life.  At the age of 3 he started learning violin, and growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, participated in various chamber groups and orchestras. Later on he attended Drake on a music scholarship.

Chef Andres said “[I] went to college as a music major, but the whole time was working in kitchens. Ultimately [I] decided, that’s my passion. That’s what I want to do.” So upon graduation he packed up and headed to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

During culinary school, he worked in many kitchens including a gourmet deli catering company in New Jersey, a high-end bed and breakfast for Manhattan elites, and at a country club in Chicago under a certified master chef.

Asked about his experience at CIA Chef Andres said “[It was] unbelievable, [it’s] arguably one of the greatest culinary schools in the world… [there’s] amazing opportunities, amazing chefs, [I] got to work with chefs of a caliber that you don’t just find in Iowa or the Midwest even.”

However, Chef Andres missed his friends, family, and what we know as “Iowa nice.” After he returned to Iowa, while working as the Executive Chef and Beverage Director at Renaissance Savory Hotel downtown, he was introduced to Des Moines Central Campus culinary instructor Elaine Wolfe. He began mentoring her students, holding fundraisers for them to go to national competitions, and employing them at the hotel’s restaurant. Through this partnership Chef Andres discovered he enjoyed working with young people who were passionate and not yet jaded by the industry.

Once Elaine Wolfe retired from her post, Chef Andres became the new instructor at Des Moines Public Schools Central Campus in 2014. During his tenure the program was awarded the Advance CTE Excellence in Action award for the Hospitality and Tourism section, identifying the program as one of the best in the nation.

Chef Andres became familiar with DMACC during the many summers he substituted for classes at the ICI. He describes DMACC students as being of a different caliber with a vested interest and dedication to their education. He started at DMACC ICI in January of 2018 and began as the new program chair shortly thereafter. The previous chair, Chef Robert Anderson, built and oversaw the program for 43 years. Chef Andres wants to continue the work of the previous chair’s legacy. He cites how previous graduates go on to work at the top restaurants in Iowa and around the country as a testament to the greatness which already exists in the program. Looking forward, his vision for the program is to make the curriculum more contemporary and slowly evolving it.

When pressed, he cited the current food preparation manual with older recipes as something he plans to update because he believes a contemporary curriculum will be more exciting for modern students.

Chef Andres wants ICI students to know their experience in the program is what they make of it. “Work hard, have fun, be dedicated to your own educational experience. You can make whatever experience you want [and at] ICI it’s the same story. You’re working with amazing chefs, take advantage of that situation, pick their brains, volunteer for extra activities. Because the more you work, the more you build your skill set and make yourself a valuable employee when you leave.”

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