The Art Institute of Philadelphia
Teaching is just as challenging as being a chef—and just as inspiring. Eric Boerner , Chef Instructor , The Art Institute of Philadelphia
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
I was a latchkey kid—both parents worked—so I had to either make my own meal, cook a TV dinner, or go hungry. Luckily, my grandparents owned a restaurant, and I picked up a few skills working with them. I enjoyed the kitchen atmosphere. And to think that someone would actually pay me for cooking...it’s almost like stealing money.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
I learned early on that culinary school doesn’t teach you, it exposes you to the how, why, and because. Learning only happens by repeating what you’ve been exposed to. And you can build on that foundation by adding your own repertoire and style. I would add that the networking aspect of the hospitality industry lets me stay in touch with current trends just by picking up the phone. And when a student has a specific area of curiosity, I can personally match them with the right mentor.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
Everyone is good at something, and everyone can improve on something. Specific hand skills come into play during our decorative cake sessions, where the tiniest execution can play a large role. I enjoy seeing a student accomplish a task that opens their eyes to their growth and potential. I’ve seen the smallest, petite person wield 100 pounds of dough and bang out beautiful rustic breads with speed and precision...and a 300-pound ex-Navy Seal take command of the most delicate sugar flowers. You have to discover who possesses what talent before you can lead them to their next accomplishment. “Reach, before you teach” is a cliché because it’s true.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?
The training I undertook in the Four Seasons management style taught me that bringing together people with unique talents makes for the best team; don’t expect everyone to excel at every task; and every puzzle piece is different in shape and placement, but they complete perfect picture. That’s why I stress teamwork and collaboration heavily in each of my classes.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
First, do it as well as you can. Take your time and make sure it’s as perfect as possible. Then do it as fast as you can—without sacrificing quality. And never go in the reverse order.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Teaching is just as challenging as being a chef—and just as inspiring. As a teacher, I don’t answer to one critic, but hundreds. I make sure I’m up to the challenge every day…just like the restaurant business.