Roving Reporter Dylan Chaplin recently interviewed Nick Shipman, a Reynolds culinary arts student who won this year's Culinary Student of the Year Elby award. They discussed his time at Reynolds, the Elby awards, and his future in the culinary field.
D.C. - Are you a student at Reynolds, or have you graduated? If you are still a student, what do you hope to do after graduation?
N.S. - I am currently a student at Reynolds. After graduation I plan on moving to Chicago to pursue my culinary career.
D.C. - What are/were your favorite classes at Reynolds and why?
N.S. - My favorite Reynolds classes are International Cuisine, which I am currently taking, and American Regional Cuisine, which I have just finished. I enjoy these the most because these classes move beyond the fundamentals of the culinary program and they begin to explore the culinary world on a much larger scale. Students also get to utilize the skills that they have learned in all of the other classes combined.
D.C. - How did you get interested in the culinary field?
N.S. - I’ve been asked this question many times, and I often struggle to provide people with the answer they are looking for. All I can say is that it just feels right. Perhaps it was the time spent in the kitchen with my mother when I was growing up that guided my life and career path in this direction. Either way, I know with absolute certainty that this is what I was meant to do.
D.C. - Tell me a little bit about your experiences at the Elby Awards.
N.S. - The Elby Awards were an amazing experience. It was exciting to be surrounded by people who share a passion for food and cooking. I have worked in Richmond as a cook for the last three years, and it was wonderful to have many of the people that I respect and have worked with congratulate me on being recognized.
D.C. - What key training or experience allowed you to separate yourself from the other students that were nominated for the award?
N.S. - This is a difficult question, because I didn’t recognize myself as separate from the rest of the culinary students. If I’ve had greater success in the program, it's as a result of the guidance and experience I’ve acquired from working for some great people in the industry. These include Chefs Ellie Basch and Jannequin Bennett of Everyday Gourmet, and Chef Dale Reitzer of Acacia Midtown, to name a few.
D.C. - How has Reynolds helped you accomplish your dreams of working in the culinary field?
N.S. - Reynolds has done so much to help me accomplish my goals. The instructors in the program teach students what it takes to be successful in the industry. They do more than relay information that is presented in our many textbooks. They guide us with their years of experience in the field, and show us how to think about food and not just “prepare a recipe.”
D.C - What would be your advice for someone looking at going into the culinary field?
N.S - I would advise anyone going into the culinary field to spend some time in a professional kitchen, even if it's for a short period. This is a tough industry that requires dedication, passion, toughness, hard work, and a strong will. If you are not prepared to give it everything you have, then this is not for you. Being a cook or a chef is not a job, it must be a lifestyle.
D.C. - If you could only have one last meal in Richmond, where would it be and what would you order?
N.S. - If I could have one last meal in Richmond, it would be at Acacia Midtown - the first restaurant kitchen I worked in. It is easily one of the best (if not the best) restaurants in the city. The kitchen staff is amazing, and the vibe that is cultivated in the kitchen is beyond compare - this is evident in the food. Everything on the menu is fantastic, but if I had to choose something specific, it would be some of the signature items such as the Calamari Salad, which is a warm salad of fried calamari, napa cabbage, carrots, pickled red onion, and cilantro tossed in a curry vinaigrette. I would also choose the crab cakes, which are typically served with grits and seasonal vegetables. The crab cakes are simple, but excellent and well executed.
D.C. - What opportunities are you currently exploring?
N.S. - I am currently working as a line cook at Maple & Pine at the Quirk Hotel in downtown Richmond. I have been working there since the opening in October. I am currently planning a trip to Chicago to explore some opportunities before I move there sometime next year. It is my hope to continue my work in fine dining establishments to hone my skills as much as possible. I am excited for what lies ahead.