Culinary News from The Culinary Institute of America

The Man Who Launched CIA Alumni into Chef Stardom Delivers Commencement Address

Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe Praises Graduates' Predecessors

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Jeff Levine
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Hyde Park, NY – The restaurateur who helped turn many alumni of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) into New York's best-known chefs shared his advice with new CIA graduates. Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe spoke to 70 recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts at the college's Hyde Park campus on Thursday, May 22, 2014.

"The CIA produces quality people, many of whom have worked for me over the years," O'Keeffe told graduates. "If I was in battle I would want those chefs to my left and right."

O'Keeffe opened the now legendary River Café on the Brooklyn side of the East River in 1977. Its executive chefs have all been CIA graduates: Larry Forgione '74, Charlie Palmer '79, David Burke '82, Rick Laakkonen '86, and Brad Steelman '85. Other alumni who cooked there before moving on to their own success include George Morrone '83, Don Pintabona '82, Gerry Hayden '86, and Dan Budd '87. Current students can work in the kitchen and pastry station of the restaurant that launched so many careers by completing their externship field experience at The River Café.

Its success over the years led to O'Keeffe opening other New York landmark restaurants where still more CIA graduates got their start: The Water Club, Liberty Warehouse, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, and Pershing Square Café.

"You are coming into this profession at a time when cuisine in America is going to a higher and higher plane," advised O'Keeffe. "Good is not good enough. Perfection is good enough. You should always seek perfection."

The River Café was heavily damaged in Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and did not reopen until earlier this year. The Water Club also sustained damage that kept it closed for a year.

Photo Caption and Hi-Res Image

Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe (left) with Dr. Tim Ryan, president of The Culinary Institute of America, at the CIA's commencement on May 22, 2014. O'Keeffe's River Café in Brooklyn launched a dynasty of CIA alumni who set the course for modern American cuisine. (Photo credit: CIA/James Clark)
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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 46,000 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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