YONKERS, N.Y. -- A few years ago I was asked to give the commencement address to the graduates of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Of course, I was honored to have been chosen but mostly I was surprised to have been asked to speak at the most prestigious culinary school in the world since I had not attended the school myself.
Instead, I attended a school right down the street, Marist College.
As a matter of fact, I'm often asked at my restaurants if I went to the CIA and my normal response is “Yes, I had lunch there once."
However, what I shared with the students I think many observers of the restaurant scene might appreciate.
A lot has changed in almost 30 years. Chefs are now expected to be experts in excel spreadsheets, creating schedules, food costs, labor costs and maintaining client data bases.
Chefs are also expected to understand the intricacies of various international cuisines. They need to be social workers and psychologists, able to soothe bruised egos and frustrated pastry assistants.
Also on the list: someone who can write recipes as well as newspaper articles and blogs. And let's not forget needing to be able to glad-hand with guests and glam for photographers.
Yes, a lot has changed.
But the passion that drew us to this industry can never change. The passion for food that feeds our soul, that nourishes our families, that inspires us to learn more, remains deep in our soul.
Food is life. And I'm sure that your most vivid memories are brought into focus by the foods which you enjoyed during those events.
Whether it was the glazed ham served at your first holy communion or the chicken fingers at your bat mitzvah, the string bean casserole at your 4th of July BBQ or the Beef Wellington served on a first date in Manhattan, food is a huge part of our hearts.
Our passion for food informs many of our most important decisions, whether it's what to serve at your grandparents 39th wedding anniversary, where to take the softball team for wings and burgers, where to eat when meeting your new girlfriend's parents, or what color icing to put on the cake for your 5-year-old’s birthday.
I often tell young interns working in my kitchens: "If you follow your passion and make your passion your profession then you will never have to work again."
This column is a continuing series by Chef Peter X. Kelly of Xaviars Restaurant Group which runs every Thursda y.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.