A.J. Schaller, CIA culinary arts alumni, is executive chef at Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group.

Spotlight On: A.J. Schaller '05Culinary Arts

Executive Chef

Women in Foodservice

On the Run
From the very beginning of her culinary career, A.J. Schaller ’05 has embraced its pace, challenges, and excitement. She is that rare breed of person who has a questing and creative mind coupled with a highly organized nature. She thrives on doing more than one thing at a time. In fact, it often looks as if she is doing the work of two women—at the very least!

Finding Her “Sport”
At nine years of age, she and her sisters began cooking family dinners because their mother, a nurse, worked long hours. Immediately bitten by the culinary bug, A.J. was barely 14 when she landed an after-school job at a catering company. She’d hop on her bicycle and get herself there—all to make cheese platters and scrambled eggs. But the chef must have recognized drive and talent, because he encouraged A.J. to think about attending the CIA and formalize her culinary education. Throughout high school, A.J. worked at a bed and breakfast with a banquet facility. She got broad experience there and did everything from cooking breakfast to roasting a steamship round to working behind the front desk checking in guests. She learned a lot, but knew it was time for that formal education.

Practice, Practice, Practice
After high school, A.J. enrolled at the CIA. Her experience was filled with the exceptional relationships she developed with her chef-instructors. She remembers Chef Frederick Brash ’76, who taught Cuisines of the Americas and shared his enthusiasm with his students. He also shared clean-up at the end of the day. A.J. speaks of him as “a great role model.” She remembers Chef Prem Kumar, who was advisor to the Gourmet Society when A.J. was president. He took the group to Delaware to participate in the Meals on Wheels Delaware competition—which they won. She recalls how his stories highlighted multiculturalism, the importance of being meticulous in your work and your person, and the necessity of being able to explain why you are doing what you are doing in the kitchen. And finally, she remembers Chef Lou Jones, who, during her year as an MIT in Escoffier after graduation, held her to a very high standard and also grabbed every spare moment to teach her classics, like fluting mushrooms. Every one of these experiences helped set A.J. on a path of personal excellence and high expectations.

Making the Cut
After meeting the director of human resources for restaurant Daniel at a CIA career fair, and performing not one but two stages, A.J. was offered an externship slot at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant in New York City. When she got there, they put her on the canapé station. But it was her work ethic, can-do attitude, and warm personality that got her noticed and remembered. Knowing that Daniel was where she wanted to work upon graduation, A.J. didn’t just hope—she kept her foot in the door by going back down to the city on weekends to help with the restaurant’s banquets and catering events, and volunteering for a huge Meals on Wheels fundraiser. And then, at last, came the offer of a job.

Stepping Up to the Plate
At Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, A.J. worked nearly every station starting with garde manger and rotisserie. After just a year she moved into the catering department. Her remarkable organizational skills did not go unnoticed when the recipe editor left. A.J. took on additional responsibilities of testing recipes; ordering and planning food and equipment for off-site events; cooking at wine and food festivals; working on the recipes for Daniel’s cookbooks; and writing plans for staff training. Eventually, she rose up the ranks to Culinary Manager for the entire Dinex Group.

Hitting Her Stride
After seven years with Daniel, A.J. received an offer to be the culinary director at sommelier Laura Maniec's Corkbuzz Wine Studio. Originally conceived as an email newsletter, Corkbuzz has grown into a three-unit wine bar and education center in New York City and Charlotte, NC. In 2015, A.J. moved to Virginia and took a position as Culinary Specialist at the Culinary Research and Education Academy (CREA) in Alexandria, VA. Founded by scientist and sous-vide pioneer Dr. Bruno Goussault in Paris in 1991, CREA has trained many of the top chefs on the application of sous-vide cooking including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the late Charlie Trotter, and Mark Miller. In fact, almost every Michelin Guide three-star chef has received personal sous-vide training from Dr. Goussault.

Winning with Grace
A.J.'s career has taken her from the world of fine dining to creating dishes for wine pairing to culinary education. Now she can pass on the lessons she learned at the CIA and the experience she's gained along the way to inquisitive chefs eager to learn the technique of sous vide. It would seem that she has found her game, and is winning with grace.

The Culinary Institute of America

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Hyde Park, NY 12538-1499

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