Jake Vander Akken

Jake Vander Akken

If you want to continue to learn and grow, seek out the most talented people in your industry and work with them. Chef Jake Vander Akken , Adjunct Faculty , The Art Institute of California—San Diego, a campus of Argosy University
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

When I was 13, I started working in a restaurant and then started cooking when I was 16. There were times in my career when I stepped away from the kitchen to further my education or work outside of restaurants; however, my career path has always been connected to the culinary industry in one way or another. Cooking and working in the kitchen was not only what I knew, but I also something I really enjoyed doing. At one point in my career I worked for an organic food certification company, and I quickly realized that I needed to get back into the kitchen. Eventually I became an instructor and I love teaching and being in a kitchen with students. Essentially, the students are my like my coworkers in the kitchens, yet, most are in school to improve themselves and generally energetic and excited, which makes for a great ‘work’ environment.

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?

In the classroom, I am as honest as possible about my experiences. I believe you can learn just as much from bad experiences as good. Often times, I tell students that some of the defining moments in my career came from what I learned after going through a bad experience. 

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?

I teach a class called Senior Culinary Practicum. During the eleven weeks of the quarter, the students create an event and it is up to them to work through it from concept to completion. One of my favorite things is to interact with the students and see how they execute their plan and how the event comes to fruition. 

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

I am a big advocate of trying to interact with as many great people as possible. If you want to continue to learn and grow, seek out the most talented people in your industry and work with them. Once you stop learning as much, move on to the next mentor. I was fortunate to serve as an apprentice early in my career, which helped to refine my knowledge in the kitchen and inspire me. 

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?

Wherever you are, continue to grow. This involves educating yourself, taking on new responsibilities, and learning applicable skills. 

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?

I jump in the ocean every day. Rain or shine. As a native San Diegan who grew up in Coronado, I use my plunge into the ocean as a way of clearing my head.