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Friday, August 18, 2017

Area Chef Educating Students, Looking for Next Challenge

Bill Collins is not a stationary man, geographically or professionally. At age 17, with parental permission, he enlisted in the military and went to Vietnam; since then he has traveled the world and lived all over the United States.
 
He is a chef, an educator, and now a real estate agent too. Collins is a culinary instructor at the Maricopa Skill Center at GateWay Community College in Phoenix and sells houses part time for Century 21: “I passed the test, jumped through all the hoops, and I like it,” he said of real estate, a more recent venture.
 
“I have several passions,” he continued, “and one of the things that I like is challenges.”
 
Indeed, Collins is a 1996 graduate of the Hyde Park, New York-based Culinary Institute
of America—“the CIA” as it’s known in industry circles—which bills itself as “the world’s premier culinary college” and which boasts a roster of alumni that includes Roy Yamaguchi, founding chef and owner of Roy’s Restaurants; Steve Ells, founder and chief executive of Chipotle; and Cat Cora, the only woman battling challengers on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.”
 
Throughout his career Collins has been, among other things, an executive chef for the Seafarers International Union in Maryland, an assistant restaurant manager for The Adams Mark Hotel Resort in St. Louis and the Broadmoor Hotel Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., and culinary manager for The Olive Garden in Orlando, Fla.
 
Currently he writes a monthly article for the Arizona Restaurateur magazine and has drafted restaurant business plans, proposals and training guides. He is a mentor for the CIA and 2003 recipient of the American Culinary Federation Culinarian of the Year award.
 
He became interested in the culinary arts while working in the produce department of a grocery store and assisting a chef friend with catering events. One of the seductions, he said, was wearing a tuxedo to events, because Collins’ life after returning from Vietnam was not filled with glamour—adventure, yes, but glamour, no. He describes the five years after returning from the war as an unfocused time in which he dropped out of community college in Santa Monica three times before “getting serious” about his future.
 
It was during this time that Collins found himself unemployed and without a home, sleeping on the beach. “I was literally a beach bum in Santa Monica,” he said, “and the people that I hung out with are still there.”
 
But Collins is one to look on the bright side. Even though he rarely speaks of this difficult time in his life, never told his mother and only confessed to one of his sisters years later, when he talks about it today he describes the people he met from all over the country—including a man who became very successful selling incense on the beach—and how that period of his life broadened his world view.
 
Today, Collins is educating others—teaching culinary theory, practical baking and cooking procedures and, as a personal mission, the tenets of good nutrition.
 
“For a person my age, I’m pretty healthy,” Collins, 52, said. “I don’t eat the foods that I prepare for others.”
 
In fact, Collins, who grew up eating meat and potatoes in the Midwest, said as he learned more about nutrition, he faced a “moral dilemma”—whether he could, with a clean conscious as an educator and chef, continue feeding people food that he did not consume. His conclusion is rather like a gastronomical laissez faire: “if [people] decide to change, that’s fine.”
 
Two of Collins’ most salient features are his way with words and his willingness to share about his life. Some of Collins’ thoughts, which he probably passes on to students, include:
 
  • "We’re all cooks. A cook is a cook is a cook, and a chef is a cook. A chef  just gets paid more."
  •  “If you work in a kitchen, you will wash dishes.”
  • “I believe if you go to a cooking school you learn to cook and bake from scratch.”
 He cares deeply about the value of education—something he learned from his mother—and currently is working towards a master’s degree from the Culinary Institute. “I think I care a little bit more about my student’s future than they do,” he said.
 
Regarding his own future? It probably involves more culinary arts, more education, and more real estate.
 
“I feel really fortunate,” Collins said, “to have the life that I’ve had.”
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