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Art Institutes

Culinary

James Beard Foundation Thanksgiving Holiday Table Winner: Lena Le

Lena Le found her way to food in a roundabout way. She spent her high school and college years in the United Kingdom before returning to Vietnam to help with the family business of importing and exporting scrap metal. She followed her parents' wishes and began a career in math and business before turning her attention to teaching English (after obtaining two qualified teaching certificates from Cambridge University and American Institutes).

She spent five years teaching English and cultures to all ages and opened her own English Center. "There, we did not just learn and share the language," she said, "but also we did a lot of social work and charity events to raise funds for orphanages and abused women and children." Her happiest times would be when, after hours, she would cook for herself.

Le relocated to the United States to be with her husband and continued to teach English online and through YouTube. She plans to continue teaching, hoping to have her own cooking show where she can teach viewers about Vietnamese Cuisine, how it evolved over time and how it is influenced by other cuisines and hoping to one day have her own restaurant.

"First and foremost, it is going to be a huge honor for me to cook for James Beard Foundation, so the experience is unspeakable," said Le. "I hope to expand my networking with fellow students as well as chefs and/or James Beard Foundation's members."

For more information about the event, please visit our James Beard Foundation Thanksgiving Holiday Table page.

Lena Le

Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts
The Art Institute of Houston

Lena Trang

Program Areas

Baking & Pastry School at The Art Institute of Houston

Baking & Pastry

Use your talent and passion to turn desserts into works of art. You’ll explore everything from plating to preparing confections to managing a commercial kitchen.

Culinary Arts School at The Art Institute of Houston

Culinary Arts

Starting with fundamentals like kitchen tools and culinary techniques, you’ll explore more than 20 of the most popular international flavors and techniques.

Culinary Management Program at The Art Institute of Houston

Culinary Management

Prepare to run both the kitchen and the front of the house, using your passion for food and your head for business to create a memorable dining experience.

Hospitality Food & Beverage Chef at The Art Institute of Houston

Hospitality Food & Beverage Management

You can learn your way around both the front and back of the house while you prepare for the challenge of bringing something new to the table for demanding consumers.

Meet our Faculty

  • Patrick Brunelli Guerra

    Patrick Brunelli-Guerra

    Culinary Arts

    "Never say that something is impossible. See every challenge as a new opportunity for you to grow even more."

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    Patrick Brunelli-Guerra

    Academic Credentials

    International equivalency of a bachelor's degree, Culinary Arts, evaluated by Career Consulting International
    B.S., Culinary Management, The Art Institute of Houston

    More than 25 years' culinary experience and classical European training, including: Executive Chef, Marriott Hotels; Executive Sous Chef, Intercontinental Hotel Houston; Executive Chef, Trattoria Grappolo; Sous Chef, Sonnenalp Resort; Sous Chef, Restaurant le Beaujolais. Chef Guerra has competed and won 9 silver and bronze medals in ACF culinary competitions (2005 - 2013); Les Chaines des Rotisseurs Hospitality Award (2003); Swiss Culinary Cup, Lucerne (2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996); multiple international culinary competitions in Canada, Switzerland and Italy, including Swiss Cook of the Year 1994 and Best Apprentice of Switzerland for 1993. He is a Certified Executive Chef with The American Culinary Federation.

    Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

    I’ve always had a passion for cooking. When I was 13 I spent my summer vacation washing dishes at my uncle’s Italian restaurant. I was fascinated by how he prepared all these intriguing, delicious dishes. Two years later, I started a culinary apprentice in Switzerland.

    How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

    I always combine the basic techniques with real-life examples from my experience as an executive chef. We end each class with a recap of techniques and cooking methods, then apply them to a situation in a restaurant kitchen. It helps students understand what’s expected of them once they graduate.

    What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

    In my Senior Culinary Practicum Class, I show students the final product, then work backwards and explain the steps it takes to get there. I don’t like to hand them all the answers on a silver platter; I want them to think for themselves.

    How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

    Teamwork is absolutely essential. In my Senior Culinary Practicum, I engage students from Photography, Graphic & Web Design, and Interior Design to create a menu, do the marketing, and design a kitchen and dining room layout. It’s a great way for students to see the big picture.

    What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

    Always be humble, learn as much as you can, and be open to others’ ideas.

    What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

    Never say that something is impossible. See every challenge as a new opportunity for you to grow even more.

    Anything else you’d like to share?

    I firmly believe that partnering with international schools is very valuable for our students in terms of broadening their experience.

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  • Graphic Design Instructor Zack Zwicky

    Zack Zwicky

    Graphic & Web Design

    "Work hard—and do it for yourself."

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    Zack Zwicky

    Academic Credentials

    M.F.A., Studio Art - Graphic Communications, University of Houston
    B.S., Graphic Design, The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale
    A.A.S., Visual Communications, The Art Institute of Houston

    Professional and academic experience includes: Faculty Member, The Art Institute of Houston, University of Houston, Rice University School of Continuing Studies; Design Studio Director, The Art Institute of Houston; Graphic Designer and Pre-Press Manager, Midtown Graphics & Press; Owner / Designer, couchpotatographics; Graphic Designer, Tomorrow's Key. Exhibitions include: A Digital Cabinet of Curiosities video installation, Blaffer Gallery, 2009; Existential Motion & Mutual Migration video installation, Box 13 Gallery, 2008; Distraction installation, Commerce Street Artist Warehouse, 2007.

    Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

    I'm not sure I've had that "defining moment," because I think of myself as someone who helps others realize their goals and potential, both through my own work and by helping students with theirs.

    How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

    I give students straight talk, I bring real life clients into the classroom, and I take my students on field trips so that can actually see, touch, and smell the things our industry is made of. You can’t learn about a profession like this within the walls of a building. By experiencing those situations while in school, they learn to deal with a lot of the challenges they'll encounter once they graduate.

    What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

    In Layout class, I have my students create a book about someone from a much different place—in terms of geography, religion, society, financial status, whatever. They interview that person to learn about things they've never experienced, then combine the written interview with original imagery to create a book that documents and explores the diverse world we live in.

    How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

    In my Art Direction class I like to have students from different programs work together. By the end of the class they've all learned something about each other’s craft, and they’re better prepared to work with others in the industry.

    What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

    Believe in yourself. It’ll help you succeed when you don't feel you're up to the task at hand.

    What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

    Work hard—and do it for yourself.

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