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Chef honored with award

Dan Brombach | Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In an age of cooking shows and celebrity chefs, it can be easy to forget the culinary profession has not always been respected, let alone glamorized, by American society.

But Notre Dame Executive Chef Donald Miller received the American Culinary Federation National Chef Professionalism Award this month in honor of his continued efforts to elevate the status of chefs in the United States through education and training.

Although he did not actively seek the award, Miller said it was greatly humbling to be recognized for fostering increased respect for chefs as working professionals.

Miller said he was inspired to enter the culinary profession by childhood visits to his grandmother’s house, where he sat for hours watching her make strudel, ribbon candy and Austrian delicacies.

“Whenever I got bored, I would go back into the kitchen where my grandma was cooking,” Miller said.  “She was incredible, I was fascinated by it. I’m sure that’s what impressed me.”

However, Miller said his eventual decision to pursue his dream and enter the Culinary Institute of America infuriated his parents.

“My folks were incredibly upset,” he said. “They just couldn’t see it, but it was something that I wanted to do. You get your shot, and you either take it or you let it pass you by.”

After working as the executive chef at a series of hotels and resorts, as well as serving as a culinary arts instructor at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., Miller said he came to Notre Dame because of its emphasis on education and academic benefits outside the kitchen.

“There’s an appreciation here at Notre Dame that education and research are important parts of the game,” he said. “I could sense they wanted to take their food service to where I wanted to take it.”

Miller said his day-to-day responsibilities as Notre Dame’s executive chef are extensive and time-consuming, reaching far beyond food production itself.

“To assure the highest quality culinary integrity through product development, research, demonstration, and audit. To provide leadership and guidance in reaching the correct culinary formula,” he said. “Those are my responsibilities.”

Administrative duties aside, Miller said his favorite part of the job is still escaping into the kitchen to cook.

“Cooking is an art, that’s the fun part of it,” he said. “When you’re cooking and you really get into a rhythm, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Miller said he plans to work for a couple more years before retiring to pursue his passion for sailing.

“I’m not going to be one of those chefs who die in their kitchens,” Miller said.

Miller said he would warn people considering becoming chefs that the Food Channel is not an accurate representation of what their careers will be like.

“The Food Channel is a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing because a lot of kids go to culinary school thinking their jobs are going to be glamorous, and then wash out when they have to work on weekends, holidays,” Miller said. “The adage is when everybody else is having fun, you’re usually working. Know what you’re getting into.”