Career Profiles: Chopping It Up With Chef Desmond Fannin

main_pic1Sponsored Content: In the first of a sponsored multi-part series from The Art Institutes, we are proud to profile Chef Desmond Fannin, graduate of The Art Institute of Atlanta.  In a few short years after graduating, Chef Fannin’s career is literally on the fast track.  Through his career travels, he has already ventured across the globe and has provided food services for several celebrities and notable clientele like Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

We sit down with this amazing talent for a short Q&A
So, tell us a little bit about what you’re up to right now
DESMOND:  I work for a company called Sodexo (the leading provider of food and facilities management) where I actually just moved into a new role…I was most recently the executive chef for the Federal Reserve Bank with Sodexo’s Corporate Services Division…now I’m the district chef of the School Services Division in Atlanta. In this role, I oversee the culinary functions of an 86 school district.  I’m responsible for food production, cost control, menu approval, and culinary training.

What were some of the earliest inklings where you decided that this is what you wanted to do?
DESMOND:  Oh wow…I was actually 15 and I was working at Ryan’s Steakhouse.  I was assigned to the front line basically making sure trays were clean and cups were full … things of that nature…  I noticed that a lot of the staff in the cooking area were having a lot of fun.  I asked my manager at the time about moving into this area and he advised me that if I wanted to work in the kitchen that I would need to learn how to cook.  I was up for the challenge!  I first started with learning how to prepare meals for the salad bar and within a year I was preparing their signature steaks…one of my managers noticed my interest and suggested that I look into a career in culinary arts.

Out of all of the school choices that are out there for this career type, what made you choose The Art Institute of Atlanta?
DESMOND: At the time here in Atlanta — Ai’s reputation was (and still is) a very good school system that develops great talent. Plus, I knew a few people that attended the school who had very good things to say about their experience.  I knew about a few other smaller schools here that could have given me some kind of culinary training but they didn’t have the reputation and respect level that The Art Institutes has.  So, for me, it was reputation and word of mouth combined.

How were the instructors in terms of helping you to define your career goals?
DESMOND:  VERY HELPFUL!!  They were very helpful and personable.  One of the advantages that I had early on was smaller classes since I took mostly afternoon and weekend classes — they were able to pay more personal attention to me. But, even as I started to take courses with larger class sizes they were still very friendly and approachable.  They really took an interest in helping you to iron out your own goals and helping you to reach them.  I still keep in touch with a few of my instructors since I’ve graduated.  They still mentor me even now.

Outside of the instructor rapport…is there anything else about  The Art Institute of Atlanta experience that helped you to further confirm that this was really what you wanted to do?
DESMOND:  Yes….they would bring in outside speakers on occasion that worked in the industry to give you a real world picture of things that were going on.  One of my instructors actually took us to a food show – and this gave me some exposure to meet and actually see what some people do.  Sometimes in school people get so caught up in just passing tests and graduating but this layer of real world exposure helped to drive me even more.

What about when you started nearing graduation…how were the school career placement services? Did you utilize them at all?
DESMOND:  (chuckles) This is actually why I have the job that I have now.  My employer was at one of the job fairs.  I met them and we kept in touch.  About two months after I graduated I joined the team.   The career services staff at the school has kept in contact with me to see how my career was going as well.  They’ve been very involved.

What are some of your biggest achievements so far in your career?
DESMOND:  The main thing that sticks out is when my employer chose me as one of 12 people worldwide to represent the company in Paris, France for the Rugby World Cup in 2007.  Sodexo was awarded a contract to provide food service for the finals and surrounding VIP events.  It was an honor indeed because they have employees in 82 different countries and I was chosen along with only one other chef from the United States.  I spent 12 days in Paris, only working 3 of those days, and my wife joined me for 4 days as well…this was definitely the highlight of my career—so far. 

4panel_screenviewAnything else that you’d like to mention?
DESMOND:  I’ve also cooked for Bishop Eddie Long (who helped put me through culinary school), Russell Simmons and was a part of a presentation with Magic Johnson.  I also appeared on a show called ‘The Chef’s Wife’ which aired on WTVI (PBS Affiliate) in Charlotte and is being shopped right now to networks.  You can catch my episode in the meantime online via their website at http://chefs-wife.com. I also make sure that I am giving back when I can. I participate in Real Men Cook for Charity, support the Atlanta Community Food Bank and other community service outlets.

What’s your ultimate goal in your career path?  At what point do you think that you would say “I’m here, I’ve Arrived, I’ve done it”
DESMOND:  I want to be a culinary mogul…there is no one set thing that I want to do.  I want the TV Show, the product line (both cookware and apparel), and I want to set up programs for underprivileged youth to expose them to the world of culinary arts.  I don’t think there will ever be that one point where I can say that I’ve done it.

What advice would you have to the person who may be interested in a career in Culinary Arts?
DESMOND:  People need to realize that this is in large part a thankless profession. A lot of things you do will go unnoticed…sure you see a lot of chefs these days on TV but that’s only a small handful of people….just don’t assume that this will be an easy road and it’s going to be “lights, camera, action glitz” or what you see on television.  Also, I would advise people to get out there and talk to some people in the industry to really get a feel for what you want to do. It’s more than just saying “I love to cook.” If you like to cook — just cook for your friends and family and be happy with that.  One really needs to learn about the art as a profession and what it takes to excel in this world (i.e. the sacrifices, the long hours).  Again, this is a thankless industry in many cases.

Would you recommend  The Art Institute of Atlanta to someone that is just graduating or even to someone who finished from a 4 year institution who is looking for a hyper-targeted track of learning?
DESMOND:  I would recommend Ai all day!!  I know people that have gone through other schools…known schools…very expensive schools….and their education and know-how is not much different from my own.  You get out of school what you put into it no matter what the price tag is.   I think Ai is a very good school to attend to get that start. Then the rest is on you!

Thanks so much for your time Desmond…Do you have an official website for people that would like to keep in touch with you…
DESMOND:  Yes I have a fan page on Facebook–just search for Chef Desmond.

Thanks so much for your time
DESMOND:  Anytime

Click to learn more about why a creative education at The Art Institutes could be right for you!

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