HFC in the family: alumna lives culinary dream at Mercy Chefs, brother chooses pharmacy
Chef Kristin Macan, an HFC alumna, remembers the epiphany she had while a student in now-retired Chef Dennis Konarski’s class, part of HFC’s award-winning Culinary Arts program.
“On the first day of class, Chef Konarski assigned us homework about chicken stock and chocolate chip cookies. I had an epiphany that went something like this – ‘They’re giving me school credits to read about soup and cookies. Someday, someone is going to pay me to make soup and cookies! I don’t know if that’s a real job, because it’s too much fun to actually get paid for, so I’m going to be a chef!’” said Macan, who lives in Chesapeake, VA with her husband and son.
Macan – who was recently profiled in CoVaBIZ: The Business Magazine of Coastal Virginia – is Director of Community Kitchens and Programs for Mercy Chefs, a Virginia-based non-profit disaster relief organization that serves professionally prepared meals to victims, volunteers, and first responders during national emergencies and natural disasters. She has been at Mercy Chefs for eight years, the last two in her current position.
Attending HFC with her brother
“It was so fun going to school with him. They called us twins because we are very close in age,” said Macan, laughing. “I went to HFC because it was an affordable option for college and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. My mom was an employee of Dearborn Public Schools, so my brother and I had free tuition. I was an English major at first before I took a semester off and then went back to study Culinary Arts with my brother. I don't think I would've had that much freedom to change paths if I was in a different kind of school.”
“I also loved to eat, and I thought that six months of cooking school would give me some skills to feed myself better,” she said. “There were lots of programs at HFC, and they were all accessible. I felt if I was interested in exploring something, I could. I also liked that there were small class sizes, so you could really get to know your teachers and get the most out of your education.”
Macan loved every moment of being in the Culinary Arts program. Her main instructors were Konarski and now-retired Chef Richard Teeple. She still has her notes from her wine class and her pastry class. In fact, she still uses the techniques for creaming in cake batters that she learned in the pastry class.
The one memory that stands out
“During the practicum, we had to create a menu with a team and then cook it for evaluation. Our team was my brother Mike, Jeff Aquilina, and me. Jeff really wanted to do the entree, so my brother and I did the other courses. It was a five-course meal and we worked really hard to pull it off. We put cream of callaloo soup on the menu, but couldn't find callaloo, so we substituted spinach and didn't admit it – (sorry, Chef; we wouldn't do it again!). Also, Jeff messed up the spice calculations, so the blackened scallops on the entree were inedible because he put a ¼ cup of cayenne pepper in four portions. My brother and I still tell stories about that day,” she recalled, laughing.
Getting into the world-class Culinary Institute of America
Teeple was Macan’s mentor. As a member of the Detroit chapter of the American Culinary Federation, Teeple took her to meetings to help her network. He also introduced her to HFC alumnus Chef Ali Majed, who gave Macan her first cooking job at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. Majed encouraged her to attend the renowned Culinary Institute of America – just like he had.
“Chef Majed was really influential. He encouraged me to go to the CIA because it would open so many doors for my career. I applied to the school, got accepted, and then applied for a scholarship. If I got the scholarship, I felt it would be a sign that I should go there.”
Macan earned the “Cream of the Crop” scholarship, a half-tuition scholarship paid in full.
“I got that $20,000 scholarship and would go on to get more than half of my tuition in scholarships and grants. I can say I was very far ahead of my peers in school because of the time I had spent at HFC. I felt that I could really get good at the skills I was learning at CIA because I had a solid foundation,” said Macan, who earned an associate degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management – both from the CIA.
A seasoned veteran of the restaurant industry
For nearly 25 years, Macan has been in the restaurant industry. Starting at age 15, she worked as a server before moving to the kitchen, where she’s been ever since.
Some of the highlights of Macan’s career include:
- Sea Island Beach Club in Sea Island, GA: “My first job after graduating from the CIA was at a five-diamond, five-star resort. I worked as a line cook, and I also worked in the training department during my pregnancy, because my chef didn't want me to get hurt cooking.”
- Stillwater’s on Main in Gloucester, VA: “As the sous chef, I really got to use my schooling to help the chef figure out her food costs and how to be more profitable. I also learned about vendors and the importance of checking in orders, so nobody tries to cheat you.”
- Mathews Yacht Club in Hudgins, VA: “I wasn't qualified for this job – which was my first time as executive chef – but they hired me anyway! I learned so much and used everything I learned in school from management skills to inventory and event planning. It was a steep learning curve and I worked a ridiculous amount of hours, but I was good at it.”
- SAGE Dining Services at Christchurch School in Christchurch, VA: “I worked for a medium-sized contract food service company as the food service director. I had the benefits of being part of a big company but also the autonomy to run the location like I thought it should be run. It had been mismanaged for years, and I was the clean-up person. It was a much harder job than I expected, but it really honed me into the professional that I am now. I grew up a lot and really got to make something great.”
Best job(s) ever
Before her current position at Mercy Chefs, Macan was on the culinary arts faculty for five years at the Culinary Institute of Virginia.
“I love teaching. It was my favorite thing to do,” she said. “I taught culinary for 5 years and it was, hands down, my favorite job. Ever since CIA, I wanted to influence the culinary industry for the better. As a leader, I tried to influence it from the top down, but I found that teaching allowed me to influence it from the ground up, which was even more effective.”
She spoke about working for Mercy Chefs.
“I am a Christian and my work with Mercy Chefs was a faith-based call,” said Macan. “I believe that my work with Mercy Chefs is what I was designed to do, and that all my training has prepared me for this.”
Through Mercy Chefs, Macan is part of a team that’s piloting the Community Kitchen, something she called a “five-year dream come true.” After creating the first Community Kitchen, the goal is to give it away and teach people how to use it, so they can have their own Community Kitchens.
“I was hired to make that dream a reality,” she said. “Our goal is to help organizations use food as a tool for good in our community. We are also teaching classes to empower people with cooking skills and job skills. I would have never left teaching if it wasn’t for the specific job that I am doing now.”