The Washington Post

Eric Ziebold to CIA grads: Get a job!

Eric Ziebold thinks cooking-school grads should worry about getting a real job on the line, not a fancy stage in Europe. (Justin Kriel of Contrast FX)

That’s going to be hard, Ziebold tells All We Can Eat, because he wants to deliver a simple-but-pointed message to those cooking-school grads: Get a job!

It seems that stages — those slavelike agreements in which a young chef agrees to work in an esteemed kitchen for free in return for knowledge — are not as difficult to secure as they were when Ziebold graduated from the CIA in 1994. “To get a stage in Europe” back then, Ziebold says, “you really had to know somebody.”

These days, kitchens all over the continent apparently pass out stages like miniature candy on Halloween. The thing about stages, Ziebold notes, is that they don’t really prepare chefs for working in a real-life kitchen.

“It’s great to go out and see the world,” says Ziebold, a James Beard Foundation Award winner who worked at Vidalia in the District and Spago in Los Angeles before landing a job at The French Laundry under Thomas Keller. But, Ziebold adds, “you need to have an actual job and be a line cook.”

That’s the only way, he adds, that budding chefs will learn how to organize their time, how to work within a brigade and how to set up and work a station. “That’s a little bit of the difference between 10 years ago and today,” Ziebold says.

The problem will be how to deliver this message in a way that sounds uplifting, not depressing, to a room full of future toques. Ziebold plans to write his speech so he doesn’t go off-script and ramble. “I know me,” he says. “If I don’t write it up, I get very, very long-winded.”

“I know what it was like for me when I was graduating,” he says. “You have a little bit of interest in what the person is saying, but you’re ready to move on and celebrate.”

Ziebold say he was asked to deliver the commencement speech when CIA president Tim Ryan visited Washington earlier this year and ate at the four-star CityZen. Ryan’s visit came with an agenda other than dinner: He wanted Ziebold to address a graduating class. The chef agreed.

While it’s an honor to deliver a commencement speech at the CIA, such addresses are not as rare as they are at traditional four-year academic institutions. The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park holds graduation ceremonies once or twice a month. Recent speakers have included San Antonio chef J ohnny Hernandez; Simon Marshall, president of Unilever Food Solutions; and Rosalyn Mallet, chair of the National Restaurant Association.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.


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