Elise "Toddy" Fineberg

Culinary Instructor Instructor Elise Fineberg

If you have a passion for food and a drive to create, you've got to cook! Elise "Toddy" Fineberg , Chef Instructor , The Art Institute of California—San Francisco, a campus of Argosy University

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

I came to cooking as a career change in my late twenties. I’d always enjoyed cooking, and the idea of working at something where I could be meticulous, whimsical, thoughtful, and creative really appealed to me.

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

There are stories upon stories I can share, based on what I’ve seen in professional kitchens. I think the anecdotes bring it to life for students. You may not find receiving orders or cost control that exciting, but a real-life story about something that went very wrong tends to be something you remember.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring, and how do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

I hold my students to high standards in everything—their uniforms, professional conduct, meeting deadlines, everything. Everyone is held accountable. As long as a student is giving his or her best effort, I’m their coach and mentor. They know that when it’s time to work, they need to be serious. But when it’s time to play, we have a great time.

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

Collaboration is the key to success in any industry. It’s really neat to see students from different programs working together—it echoes real life. A terrific example is the Fashion Show. The concept comes from Fashion students, but it can’t be executed without audio, lighting, marketing, design, catering, etc. It’s a giant project with a lot of pieces, and it takes students with a variety of skills working together to pull it off successfully.

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

Preparation, organization, and integrity. Come in with a plan, work fast and clean, and be a part of the team.

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

Really, really make sure this is what you want to do. But if you have a passion for food and a drive to create, you’ve got to cook!

Anything else you’d like to share?

My job is the perfect marriage of two things that I love—cooking and mentoring young people.