Valerie W. Barth
Do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. Valerie W. Barth , Chef Instructor , The Art Institute of California—Hollywood, a campus of Argosy University
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
Some of my fondest memories are watching my mother cook. Many of the lessons I learned then are the same ones I share with my students now. I was a special education teacher in Brooklyn when I decided to deepen my knowledge of cooking and expand my kitchen skills by attending culinary school. Working in catering and as a personal chef, I realized that I could bring my greatest strengths and passions together— teaching, food, and people.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
I’m a storyteller. The stories I tell are about my professional experiences, and also about my learning experiences in the kitchen. Those experiences influence everything about the way I teach my students. I pass along my recommendations, warnings, successes and stumbles. And I encourage them to seek out others who can help them sort out their own paths.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
I try to strike a balance between pushing and nurturing—to create a space where each student can shine in his or her own way. I do this by honoring their wide range of skills, experiences and aspirations, while pressing them to remember why they chose this school and the seriousness of that commitment. And, I reinforce that they’re each capable of making their own unique mark on the world.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success?
The culinary industry is built on teamwork, so my students work in teams throughout the program. I encourage them to embrace this aspect of the profession early on, and to work to achieve the kind of cohesiveness you see in the best kitchens.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
I tell my students that they’re more than capable of achieving their dreams, even in the face of adversity. There will always be challenges, but they can ask for help, tap into their support systems and networks, and adjust course.
What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?
Do whatever it takes to keep moving forward.