They Would Have Been Right

Chef at Pi Kappa Alpha, University of Arkansas Campus Cooks

David Thornton, Chef of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at University of Arkansas, shares a taste of what it is like having the passion for culinary, service, and hospitality but also knowing there is more to life than working every hour of every day.  Many of our chefs can relate to this.  This is why we do what we do.  

Ten years ago, if anyone would have said to me, “You’ll be cooking in a fraternity house in Fayetteville, Arkansas and you’ll think it is the best job you’ve ever had,” I probably would have told them they were crazy. I would have at least cocked my head sideways a lifted an eyebrow as I stared at them. Ten years ago, I was in my first executive chef position at a destination restaurant that sat between Olympia, Washington and the coastline. It was a beautiful restaurant surrounded by a wealth of local foods. I was cleaning salmon that had been pulled from the ocean just hours before. I was shaving fresh, wild-grown, Washington truffles onto creamy pasta. I had a signature dish, and was well on my way to becoming an artist of a chef.

And then, I got homesick.

I missed my family in far off Arkansas. The six day a week, no vacation life of an intimate restaurant chef offered no time off, no way to visit my family. In fact, when my parents came to visit me for a week, I only saw them when they stopped by the restaurant for a meal. The rest of the time, they were exploring the area without me.

After they left, I realized I had to head back home.

Just across the Mississippi River from Arkansas is Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis offered a new culinary journey that put me in touch with a more rustic style of cooking. I learned the art of barbecue and, as executive chef of an American style restaurant, I learned down home, southern cooking.

The new techniques and recipes I learned taught me a far more important lesson as well. I learned that amazing food is well cooked food, not necessarily fancy food. The plating doesn’t have to be a work of art, the food just has to be well prepared.

Enter Campus Cooks and the guys at Pi Kappa Alpha at the University of Arkansas. When I lift the top off of a lasagna and hear the guys hoot and holler, it gives me the same joy that a good review gave me years ago. When I get to the kitchen in the morning and I see they’ve already posted the same dinner from the night before on the craving sheet, I know they loved dinner last night. It gives me great pride to offer great food to them and know it is appreciated. So, while I would have thought they were crazy for saying that I’d love cooking at a fraternity years ago, boy, they would have been right.

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