CIA Grad and Executive Chef at Morimoto Napa Tells Graduates to Keep the Customer First

Nai Kang Kuan

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Tyffani Peters-Sedgwick
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St. Helena, CA – Nai Kang Kuan, executive chef at Morimoto Napa and a CIA graduate, encouraged students at his alma mater to always keep the customer in mind as they head into their culinary careers. Kuan gave the keynote address at graduation ceremonies on Friday, November 8 at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley.

To underscore the point, Kuan presented a photo of his dentist, who had taken a moment to make him comfortable in the dentist's chair. That small gesture made a big impression.

"We are in a service industry, and we must always remember to keep our guests comfortable and happy—and she is one of the best examples of this," Kuan told the 39 culinary arts and baking & pastry arts associate degree graduates.

Prior to enrolling at the CIA, Kuan had already received a bachelor's degree in environmental science from the University of California, Riverside, and was pursuing a master's degree in molecular biology and environmental toxicology at the University of Cincinnati's School of Medicine. That's when he decided to change course and pursue his hobby of cooking as a career. After earning his CIA degree in 2002, Kuan worked his way through many top restaurants across the U.S. He returned home to the Bay Area to serve as commis at Thomas Keller's world-famous French Laundry. He eventually became sous chef there before joining Morimoto Napa in 2011.

During the ceremony, Kuan also shared a photo of himself as a CIA student waiting in line for Chef Thomas Keller to sign his book, unaware that one day he would be working for the three-Michelin Star chef. Citing this experience, he told the newest CIA graduates that dreams do come true.

Photo Caption and Hi-Res Image

Nai Kang Kuan, executive chef at Morimoto Napa tells graduating culinary and baking & pastry associate degree students at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to keep their customers top of mind. (Photo credit: Charlie Gesell/CIA)
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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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