Top Chef Star Revisits the HCCC Culinary Arts Institute Where He Studied, Advises Students and Would-be Chefs about the Restaurant Industry

March 1, 2018

March 1, 2018, Jersey City, NJ – Long before he became a Top Chef contestant, Bruce Kalman carved ice and tallow and spent a night with classmates in sleeping bags at the dining room of Hudson County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute, the school where he developed skills that keep him in demand.

Mr. Kalman returned to the Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) on Feb. 15 to share his career experiences, insights and advice with CAI students and a community audience. Basic tips included finding work in a restaurant while attending school in order to enhance classroom learning; working with a successful chef/organization; and understanding that it takes time, patience and repetition in order to build success.

“Everyone wants to jump from one thing to the next without actually mastering the first thing,” Kalman said. “You become a jack of all trades and a master of nothing that way. It’s a hard pill for most cooks to swallow, but there is so much to being a great cook and a great chef, not just knowing how to build flavor.”

Those interested in concocting a career in crafting cuisine that is both mouth-watering and visually pleasing learned about Mr. Kalman’s humble beginnings. He started cooking at a local pizzeria when he was 13. Mr. Kalman cooked for five years before attending the HCCC Culinary Arts Institute, and chose to study there because of its small class sizes, intensive hands-on lessons, and strict programming.

“Aside from cooking technique, learning proper service, and management basics, it mostly taught me teamwork, strong work ethic, and discipline. I feel very well-rounded as a chef because of my time at HCCC,” Kalman said. “I really enjoyed all of the instructors. They told it like it is, they treated us in a way, as they would treat commis (junior chefs) and chef de parties in their own restaurants, and I liked that structure.”

Fast forward to his typical workday as the owner of multiple restaurants. “I spend the majority of my time mentoring and coaching the chefs, working on menu development, putting tighter systems in place; a lot of time is spent on promoting my brand and the brand of the restaurants. This is how you get butts in seats. The public relations brings people in, and the coached chef teams deliver the goods, which brings people back,” Kalman said.

Before becoming a chef and mentor, Mr. Kalman had several mentors who taught him key points about the restaurant industry. He worked in New York City with David Burke at Park Avenue Café, and in Chicago with Paul Bartalotta at Spiaggia. Both chefs were his biggest inspirations.

“Working with these two amazing chefs, who have such polar opposite styles of cooking, has helped push the boundaries (Burke) while maintaining classic integrity and simplicity (Bartalotta),” Kalman said.

He thanked Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group for mentoring him on running a business.

Mr. Kalman’s executive chef experiences include Okno, Green Dolphin Street, and Coco Pazzo in Chicago, Il Piatto in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix, The Churchill in Los Angeles, and the Union in Old Town Pasadena, California.

Kalman was nominated for a James Beard “Rising Star Chef:” award, and has made several appearances on the Food Network, Esquire Network, and Bravo.