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Veterans find a new way to serve - in the kitchen

By Jeremy Harlan, CNN | 11/11/2013, 3:31 p.m.
Veterans serve from in the kitchen
Former Marine Michael Randolph, Jr. traded his uniform for a chef's jacket to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Photo by CNN.

Veterans trading in their fatigues for crisp white chef jackets is nothing new for this culinary school. In fact, it was created for that very purpose.

In 1948, a Connecticut attorney Frances Roth and her friend Katharine Angell wanted to create a “culinary center of the nation” and help returning World War II veterans find a new vocation. Roth (who lost her eldest son in the war) and Angell opened the first institute on Yale University's campus where Angell’s husband served as university president.

Over time, the school’s enrollment grew beyond the capacity of the small New Haven, Connecticut campus. In 1972, the CIA moved to its majestic riverside location in the Hudson Valley. Since then, US campuses have been added in the Napa Valley and, most recently, San Antonio, Texas.

But as the school has expanded and explored new innovations in cooking, the original ideal of helping veterans has never wavered.

“We’ve continued for all these years to honor this tradition and keep this value going,” says Keller. “We continue to provide them with the bachelor’s degree which is supported through the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program.”

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a Department of Veterans Affairs program that bridges the gap between the Post-9/11 GI Bill contribution and the school's tutition and fees.

“It definitely took a lot of pressure off me,” says Randolph, who graduated just last week with his associate’s degree in culinary arts. Soon he’ll begin classes for his bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management with hopes of eventually becoming a food and beverage manager.

Keller believes incoming veterans, thanks to their military service, hold many other advantages in the culinary field.

“In the military, obviously they’re trained to follow directives in order to be successful,” explains Keller. “It’s the hierarchy you see in both professional kitchens and in the military.”

“The discipline from the Marine Corps that veterans have is a slight advantage over your standard 18, 19, 20, even 22-year old coming from high school or home. Being able to wake up early, to me that’s easy even though it’s hard for some people to get up at four or five o’clock in the morning,” says Randolph.

Keller wholeheartedly agrees. “Discipline does translate very well to the kitchen. It is very important that you show up on time, that you are prepared and ready to work and that you are in professional uniform.”

She adds, “I’m incredibly proud of what we’re able to do and working with service men and women. It’s an honor and responsibility that we’ve been given and an honor when we do see our students on graduation day or hear about them later and hear about the wonderful things that they’re doing as they continue on in their lives. It is just an enormous privilege for us to be able to give back.”

For Randolph, he’s paying it forward today with that first offering of foie gras.

“People will judge this restaurant by the first bite. You are putting your trust in me so when you leave the restaurant or establishment, hopefully it will be with a smile on your face. I’m hoping what I can do later on in my career is treat you through food.”

Previously:

Grenades and gravy – cooking in the Korean War

Raise a glass to U.S. veterans

Lifting faraway soldiers' spirits, one bite at a time

For troops, a happy meal is relative

Army: Hot breakfasts in Afghanistan cut due to logistics, not budget

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