CIA Alum Mark Stark Tells Graduates to Reach for the Chandeliers

Mark Stark

Tyffani Peters
Media Relations Specialist

St. Helena, CA – Mark Stark, chef and owner of five restaurants and a catering company in Sonoma County, CA, told graduates of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone that his greatest motivation is the fear of being mediocre. Stark, a CIA alumnus, addressed 38 students who graduated with Associate in Occupational Studies degrees in both Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts at commencement ceremonies in May.

"My definition of mediocre is something or someone that has the ability to be great, but missed the mark because of lack of commitment," said Stark. "I've never wanted to be viewed as a chef that didn't have commitment. I'd rather reach for the chandeliers and fall flat, than to be ordinary."

After graduating from the CIA's Hyde Park campus in 1984, Stark began his culinary career in Washington, DC, where he worked as a pastry cook at the Four Seasons and later apprenticed under Chef Pierre Chambrin, who would go on to become the White House chef during the Reagan Administration. After a six-year stint in Seattle, Stark came to California and, in 2002, moved to Sonoma County, where he and his wife Terri opened Willi's Wine Bar to rave reviews. Their umbrella restaurant company, Stark Reality Restaurants, now includes Willi's Wine Bar, Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, Monti's Rotisserie & Bar, Stark's Steak & Seafood, and Bravas Tapas Bar.

Willi's Wine Bar has been named one of the top 100 Bay Area Restaurants by the San Francisco Chronicle for the last three years, and the newly opened Bravas has been hailed as one of food critic Michael Bauer's top 100 restaurants for 2013. Mark and Terri Stark were also nominated this year for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateurs.

"You're about to join an exclusive club," Stark told the graduates. "It's a lifetime membership. I'm a member, and I welcome you."

Photo Caption and Hi-Res Image

Chef Mark Stark told CIA graduates he never wanted to be viewed as a chef who didn't have commitment. (Photo credit: CIA/Charlie Gesell)
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Founded in 1946, The Culinary Institute of America is an independent, not-for-profit college offering associate and bachelor's degrees with majors in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and culinary science, as well as certificate programs in culinary arts and wine and beverage studies. As the world's premier culinary college, the CIA provides thought leadership in the areas of health & wellness, sustainability, and world cuisines & cultures through research and conferences. The CIA has a network of 45,000 alumni that includes industry leaders such as Grant Achatz, Anthony Bourdain, Roy Choi, Cat Cora, Dan Coudreaut, Steve Ells, Charlie Palmer, and Roy Yamaguchi. The CIA also offers courses for professionals and enthusiasts, as well as consulting services in support of innovation for the foodservice and hospitality industry. The college has campuses in Hyde Park, NY; St. Helena, CA; San Antonio, TX; and Singapore.

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