Robert RJ Yoakum, CIA culinary arts student

Spotlight On: Robert R.J. Yoakum '16Associate Degree in Culinary Arts

Hometown: Mission Viejo, CA
“When I got to the CIA, it was icing on the cake to play ball here.”

In the Kitchen or Gym, It’s All About Team

For Robert “R.J.” Yoakum, it doesn’t matter if he’s on the line in a restaurant or at the line on the basketball court—he’s driven to be the best he can be. Basketball and cooking are clearly two things R.J. is very passionate about, and he often relates what happens on the court to the goings-on in the kitchen.

“Your mindset needs to be the same in both,” he explains. “You can’t just run and play like a robot in basketball. You have to see what works, to create, to take what’s given to you. It’s the same with cooking.”

And when it comes to basketball, R.J. should know. He’s spent 12 years of his life playing the sport. “I was playing travel ball by the time I was 9, and in my four years playing high school ball, the team was 115-17, went to the regionals three times, and made it all the way to the states once,” he recalls. “When I got to the CIA, it was icing on the cake to play ball here.”

R.J.’s path to the CIA started at an early age when he was the self-professed “pickiest eater” in his family. Seeing that, his aunt decided to get him into cooking so he could turn something he didn’t like into something he did. The passion for cooking really kicked in when he began working in a CIA grad’s restaurant that he’d been going to since he was 8.

“I always thought culinary school was in my back pocket,” he says. “And when I worked at Hanna’s Prime Steak under CIA alum and Executive Chef Sean Reynolds ’08, he referred me to the college.”

Now that he’s here, R.J. makes sure to keep his schedule—and campus life—as balanced as possible. “While I’m very competitive on the court, off-court my attitude is ‘I’m not here for basketball.’ My priority is school,” he explains. “But you still need to put the effort in. At first I didn’t always practice for basketball, but I found that as I practiced more, I played much better. It’s like that in the kitchen too; what you put into it is what you get out of it. Consistency comes with repetition.”

That consistency helped R.J. twice earn Rookie of the Week honors in the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and helped the CIA team get out to a 6-2 start to the season.

As he continues his CIA education and moves forward with achieving his goals, R.J. is ever-mindful of the words of his high school coach. “He said, ‘Know your role; don’t try to do something you can’t. If you’re a shooter, shoot. If you’re a big, stay down low. Do what you do best to help the team.’ That’s something that has stayed with me.”

Whether that team is on the basketball court or in the kitchen, R.J. Yoakum is definitely doing what he does best—and loving every minute of it.

The Culinary Institute of America

1946 Campus Drive
Hyde Park, NY 12538-1499