Heidi Kovell

Culinary Faculty Member Heidi Kovell

If you love what you do, you won't work a day in your life. Heidi Kovell , Baking & Pastry Chef Instructor , The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I was watching the 2002 World Pastry Competition, focusing on the American and French teams. As Jean-Phillipe Maury of the USA team sculpted chocolate and sugar, I thought, that’s what I want to do with my life. That’s when I began looking into culinary schools...that’s when I decided I wanted to work for Jean-Phillipe Maury.

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

I like to personalize the learning for students. I share stories about where I’ve worked—and some of the famous chefs I’ve worked for. My real-life experiences give them insights into what it’s like to work in a restaurant or pastry shop, or to organize a banquet. They learn about the equipment they’ll use, and how to use it—and how to improvise if they don’t have the tools they need. If I’m working on an event for the school, I’ll enlist the help of students. I believe the only way to set students up for success is to let them know what to expect when they enter the workforce.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

Each student keeps a weekly journal so they can share their thoughts on the week’s production, as well as what they’ve learned. They can write a comment or concern in their journal and I’ll address it immediately. When a student feels they aren’t grasping a concept, I suggest other options and offer alternative ways to approach it.

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

I see collaboration in every class. All the students are in the culinary program, but they may be studying different areas. Included in each day’s production list are tasks to be accomplished in groups of two to four members; each member has a different strong suit, and each shares their work with the rest of the group—contributing to the final product while learning from each other.

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

I tell my students, “You must love what you do. If you don’t love it, if you don’t have a passion for it, if you aren’t willing to make your career your whole life, you won’t do well.” That may seem harsh, but it’s how it is in the culinary industry. As the old saying goes, “If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.”

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

The culinary world is rough, brutal, honest, and difficult. I make sure my students know the reality and are ready for it. And I let each of my grads know that I my door is always open for them.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My students tell me I’m able to calm them when they’re stressed. I help them get back on track with the task at hand, and I always have an open ear.