Pete Ryan from Cook Street School of the Culinary Arts dishes on fat wallets, fair wages and mediocrity
Lori Midson Pete Ryan, executive chef/instructor at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts
Cook Street School of Culinary Arts
1937 Market Street
After a fifteen-month pan-pounding stint at Z Cuisine, in March Pete Ryan became the executive chef/instructor at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, a move that brought him back to the institution where he'd been a student in the inaugural class of 1999. "I had just moved here from New Jersey and was driving by the school one day and saw the 'coming soon' sign, so I came inside, met Michael Comstedt, the school's director, and a couple of beers later, I had signed up for the program," recalls Ryan, who nearly didn't became a chef at all.
"I got out of high school and had no idea what I wanted to do, but my dad was a Marine and a Massachusetts state cop, so I figured I'd follow in the Ryan tradition and go into the service," he says. But Ryan's best friend made him think twice about that. "I'd gone through all the testing, and everything was ready to go," he remembers, "when my buddy asked me what the hell I was doing, and I just looked at him and said I had no idea." So Ryan walked into the recruiter's office, announced that he'd changed his mind and then broke the news to his dad. "He flipped out and told me that I had to go to college," says Ryan, who attended the University of Massachusetts at Lowell -- and then got the boot with only seven credits left before graduation.
"My mom told me that if you learn how to cook, you can always find work and you'll never go hungry, so I cooked in a nursing home for a while and then moved to Denver and enrolled in the Cook Street program," says Ryan. He graduated on a Friday -- and was offered a stove gig at the school less than a week later. "I was the kitchen bitch," he quips. "I was hired to work twenty hours a week, but I volunteered for another forty and eventually invented a job for myself. I didn't want to leave. I refused to leave." Ryan began teaching recreational cooking classes and became a certified chef de cuisine through the American Culinary Federation.
Seven years later, in 2007, he finally left Cook Street to become a full-time, diploma-seeking student at the University of Colorado Denver. "I got a degree in communications because it was easy, cheap and quick," says Ryan, who graduated first in his class. He contemplated returning to Cook Street then, but instead took a job at Z Cuisine, a job that lasted until he got a tip that the school was hiring a faculty member. "I heard a rumor that one of the instructors had left, and a few weeks later, I was back where I started," Ryan says.
In the interview that follows, Ryan talks more about his journey from student to teacher, his favorite restaurant in the world and fair salaries for the kitchen bitch.