David Holtzman

David Holtzman - Program Chair, Culinary

Collaboration in Culinary school is essential, because no successful business can be accomplished alone. David Holtzman , Culinary Arts Program Chair , The Art Institute of Austin, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I can’t think of a single, defining moment, but I can give examples of key events in my life.  

I grew up on the Texas/Mexico Border and was fortunate to have been exposed to a variety of cultures at an early age.  

Dining out generally meant a trip down the road to Matamoros, Mexico and the sights, smells, and tastes from the street vendors or fine-dining, white tablecloth restaurants were a world away from the fast food franchises popping up in my hometown during the 70s and 80s.  

From tiny two bite carne asada tacos with crunchy white onion, fragrant cilantro, a squeeze of lime, some salsa and perhaps a thin sliver of aguacate to grilled quail, frogs legs, or steak tampiquena served by tuxedoed waiters while being serenaded by mariachis, my introduction and subsequent education into Mexican cuisine helped guide me to a life of travel, food, education, and exploration.  

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I was once told that one of the most  important things a good culinary instructor should have, is stories.  Stories about their experiences in the industry, in traveling, interacting with people, sourcing ingredients, and any other things they can bring to the students that curriculum cannot.  These stories reinforce the educational process and gives credibility and reference points.  Sometimes the stories are funny, which can also lighten the mood in a tense classroom.

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

As an introduction, I like to hand out an assignment called “Desert Island Chef.”

I ask students to list the 10 ingredients they would choose to have with them on a remote island and what they’d cook with these ingredients.  I got the idea from a book and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the varied cultures and backgrounds of these students.  It’s a conversation starter, it shows what each person thinks is important, and gives some insight into what they’ll bring to the group dynamic. 

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?

Collaboration in culinary school is essential because no successful culinary business can be accomplished alone.  There are lots of unseen tasks to accomplish for a recipe to be executed successfully and most meals contain multiple recipes.  Additionally, nobody is good at everything so it’s important to collaborate with others who may be better at certain things.

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?

The single most important thing is Grit. Grit is a combination of passion, determination, focus, and perseverance that gives a person the ability to stick it out through discomfort, temptations, diversions, and often lack of visible progress to reach long term goals.   

In regards to advice, work hard and always keep learning, growing, and working on your education.  Don’t forget to balance your life as best you can.