Melanie Dunbar, CIA alumni

Alumni Bio: Melanie Dunbar '12

Culinary Arts
Chef-Instructor, The Culinary Center
"CIA exposed me to different channels and connections."

It could easily be argued that Melanie Dunbar has the greatest job on earth or at sea. She is a chef-instructor at The Culinary Center, the first cooking school at sea, for premium cruise line Oceania Cruises®. Melanie teaches hands-on instruction onboard the ships Marina and Riviera, and leads guests on Culinary Discover Tours™. Dubbed the “finest cuisine at sea,” The Culinary Center’s executive culinary director is none other than legendary Master Chef Jacques Pépin and includes a state-of-the-art facility and the best kitchen views in the world.

How did Melanie score such a great gig? “I got my job through Career Services with the help of Career Services Officer Maura O’Meara,” Melanie says. And what a gig it is. On the Culinary Discovery Tours Melanie guides guests through local markets at each port-of-call and introduces them to the freshest, indigenous ingredients. Then it’s back to the ship to create tasty dishes. “We have set curriculums and offer 20 different classes to teach adults how to cook,” she explains.

Blessed with a natural entrepreneurial spirit—Melanie announced to her mother at the age of five that she was going to be an attorney—her road to a culinary profession was a circuitous one. Melanie was interested in the culinary arts in high school, but her mother insisted on her attending a more traditional college. So Melanie attended Seton Hall University, graduating with a degree in economics. After graduation, Melanie sold real estate, owned a self-sustaining farm, performed cooking demonstrations, and did catering on the side—keeping alive her secret passion.

Fifteen years after graduating from college, Melanie still had the drive to pursue that passion and attend culinary school. “It was just time. I was really interested in research and development and product innovation. I was a self-taught cook,” says Melanie. “Although I got positive feedback for my cooking, I found out that in order to really move up in the professional world I had to get a culinary degree. The CIA exposed me to different channels and connections.”

As a career changer, Melanie’s varied background made the transition to full-time student relatively easy. “I sold the farm and moved to Hyde Park. I was still selling real estate at the time,” she says. “I completely embraced everything the CIA had to offer. I felt I was finally living my life, the life of my choosing.”

Melanie did her externship at McCormick & Company—often called the Willy Wonka of the spice world—and was an MIT and opening team member for The Bocuse Restaurant on the CIA’s Hyde Park campus. “The CIA changed my life. It was everything I ever wanted. It gave me the confidence to take risks in my personal and professional life. It gave me a platform and then all I had to do was stand on it. The CIA gives you the world when you go there and can help you reach for your goals and dreams,” Melanie explains. “The experience exceeds your expectations. I always say, graduating from the CIA puts you in the culinary mafia. I can’t go anywhere in the world without running into a fellow graduate.” That includes her workplace where Kathryn Kelly ’10, is the executive chef and director of culinary enrichment at Oceania Cruises and Noelle Barille ’09, is a fellow instructor at The Culinary Center.

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The Culinary Institute of America
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Hyde Park, NY 12538-1499
Phone: 845-452-9600