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Name: Donnie Ungaro
Graduating Class: April 2007
Current Position: Chef/Owner – Culinary Ink Catering & Personal Chef Services
Culinary Ink Catering & Persona Chef Services: http://www.culinaryink.com
When did you decide you wanted a cooking career? Why?
After the tragic passing of my father, I stepped back from my insurance career and looked at what my passions and skills were. I had a passion for cooking since I was 10 years old and finally decided to “GO FOR IT” and follow my heart instead of my salary.
What obstacles or challenges did you have to overcome to pursue your career?
The hardest thing to adapt to was the hours. You miss many of life’s moments because when your friends are out celebrating, we are the ones making the food. I loved cooking, but didn't want to miss out on those moments in life so I hired a life coach to find the right culinary path to suit my work/life balance desires and thus Culinary Ink was born.
How did your education at Pacific Institute Of Culinary Arts prepare you for your career?
PICA gave me the fundamentals to start my apprenticeship. I also learned timing, seasoning and began developing my palette.
What advice would you give to current or prospective students about having a successful career in culinary arts?
In order to be a successful Chef, you not only need to be a great cook and have creativity, you also need to understand the business side of industry. I highly recommend taking a business course or even a short business diploma course.
Prospective students also need to realize that they will be coming into the industry as a line cook or hotel prep cook. They need to get the TV chef idea and the glamour out of their mind. You need to have a driving passion for food and for serving people to survive. The hours are long and hard, but if you love food and cooking, it makes it all worthwhile when the dinner comes up after service and compliments you on the meal.
Where did you first work after graduation?
The Hyatt on Burrard, then Fresco (RauDZ) - Kelowna.
What did you gain from this experience?
The first decision a cook needs to make is whether they want to go the restaurant or the hotel route. They are two completely different paths. I am not a hotel cook; I prefer the stress of service, over the volume at hotels.
At Fresco I learned how to truly cook. I learned how to cook the perfect carrot and how to extract the most flavor from each ingredient. I also learned to appreciate and support local farmers and artisan cheese and bread makers. I learned how to respect the ingredients and in return the food released more flavor therefore elevating the dinner's experience.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I love waking up every day and living my passion. I live and breath food, and now I get paid for it. I get to wander Granville Island looking for inspiration, check out the seasonal produce and I get to express myself through my food. I make people happy and create memories with every dish.
Who or what has inspired you?
Chef Rod Butters at Fresco had the most impact on my career. His passion, creativity and support of the local producers inspired me on a daily basis. I marveled at the simplicity of his dishes that had such complex flavors and perfect technique.
Inspiration for my dishes can come from anywhere, a television show, a family dinner to a passing thought.
What are some of the top skills and or attributes that make a successful Chef?
I feel that patience, creativity, knife skills and a constant desire to always make the dish better are what make a great chef. You need to live for food, be patient and know that you won't be a culinary superstar when you graduate, but with time and effort you will exceed your goals.