Jordy VandeBunte is a self-proclaimed "culinary student with a top secret security clearance." It's not every day you meet an aspiring chef like VandeBunte: a current student at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at GRCC who used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. With the Secchia Institute recently being ranked as one of the
we have no doubt his career transition is nothing less than fitting.
Jordy VandeBunte is a self-proclaimed "culinary student with a top secret security clearance." It's not every day you meet an aspiring chef like VandeBunte: a current student at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at GRCC who used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Rapid Growth: Are you originally from Grand Rapids?
Jordy VandeBunte: Yes. I was born in Butterworth Hospital and grew up south of Grand Rapids. I graduated from Hope College
in Holland, Michigan and then moved to Tucson, Arizona for graduate school. My wife and I lived and worked in Washington, D.C. from 2008 to 2015. We moved back to West Michigan to be closer to our families and to start our own.
RG: Ah! A West Michigan Boomerang. What did you do when you were out in Washington, D.C.?
JV: I was an intelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency for six years working on Middle East issues. It was fascinating work. I learned a lot and got to travel to some fascinating places. But, ultimately, it was not my passion and I couldn’t see myself working there long term. So here I am: a culinary student with a top secret security clearance.
RG: Wow, that's something you don't hear every day. How long have you been attending the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education
JV: Since January of this year.
RG: Which specific culinary arts track are you on?
JV: I am in the Personal Chef Certificate program. I was initially enrolled in the Associate’s Degree track but didn’t see the value in taking Survey of American Government or English Composition I.
RG: What are your career aspirations with taking this program?
JV: I’m interested in becoming a personal chef because I think the home kitchen is still the most important arena for cooking. Our culture spends a lot of energy following and emulating celebrity chefs. While I think that has generally been a good thing for our food I.Q., I also think we’ve lost sight of how we’re capable of making and enjoying sublime meals in our own homes.
RG: What is the most unique experience you’ve had attending the Secchia Institute so far?
JV: Getting to know the chef faculty. They have been very gracious with their time and expertise. Many people would argue that simply working in the industry is the only food service training someone needs. But I tend to learn more when the expectation is education and not rote production.
RG: Has there been anyone in particular on staff who has truly inspired you?
JV: As a culinary novice I’m inspired by anyone who can make a living from cooking.
RG: Have there been any unexpected hurdles?
JV: Turns out I like washing dishes a lot less than I thought.
RG: Personal chefs have to clean dishes too?
JV: Sadly, yes. In fact, there’s a solid argument to be made that the only reason we dine out is to avoid washing dishes.
RG: What are some of your favorite dishes to prepare?
JV: I’ve been really trying to take advantage of the Asian grocery stores in Grand Rapids. So I’ve been cooking a lot of Vietnamese dishes like Pho Bo (a beef noodle soup that may well be the cure for the common cold) and Banh mi (grilled pork sandwiches). Ever since I bought Fuschia Dunlop’s incredible cookbook Every Grain of Rice
, I’ve also been trying my hand at Sichuan cooking. The real lesson with Asian cuisine is that Americans don’t know the first thing about it, myself included. We’re playing checkers; they’re playing chess.
RG: That’s awesome! I imagine cooking that way takes a lot of time and patience?
JV: When you’re genuinely curious about something, time and patience are no longer hurdles. This is where I feel fortunate: the more I cook, the more I want to cook. It’s a virtuous circle.
RG: For those of us who seem to endlessly struggle within the kitchen, do you have any creative advice?
JV: Don’t feel bad about cutting corners with some pre-made ingredients, but lean heavily on fresh produce. Make time to go to the grocery store more than once a week. Keep flavor-rich ingredients on hand; I use a lot of fresh lemons, anchovies, and real parmesan cheese. And most importantly, take your time! To paraphrase the late, great Jim Harrison: If you don’t have an hour to cook your dinner every night, quit your job. Or hire me.
RG: Where do you see GR in the next five to 10 years when it comes to local cuisine?
JV: I’d hate to see Grand Rapids do a time warp straight to inaccessible fine dining. No offense to Wolfgang Puck and Ruth’s Chris, but I’d trade either of those places for five scrappy, independent restaurants. And while I’ve got the bully pulpit, I’d also like to see the end of this farm-to-table fetish. It shouldn’t be remarkable that chefs are using local ingredients. That’s the new normal. Don’t use local sourcing as an excuse to not make great tasting food.
Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.