Sean Kahlenberg, Lecturing Instructor—Culinary Arts, The Culinary Institute of America

Spotlight On: Sean Kahlenberg '04Culinary Arts

Lecturing Instructor—Culinary Arts, The Culinary Institute of America
“Life is full of choices...a good education helps you make the right ones. I could not believe how fast the CIA got me to where I wanted to be after graduating.”

Traveling the world as a professional chef wasn’t in Sean Kahlenberg’s original plans while he was growing up in the small town of Wollongong, Australia. “I was an athlete, and when I was 16 I actually bought my own gym,” Sean recalls. “And then my friend and I bought two more.” At around that same time, however, an opportunity to apprentice at a local diner came up. “Some friends were running a downtown eatery and no one could really handle the heat in the kitchen at the time; it’s very hot and humid in Australia,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can do that’ and proved to be able to stand there longer than anyone else. So I got the job.”

Things took off from there for the young chef. The diner did well, and ultimately received a contract with a big hotel in the area. So the entire staff moved to that location, and that’s when Sean says he started learning cooking at another level. It’s also when he began getting a taste for travel. “My chef at the hotel was the first foodie I was ever exposed to. He was a big traveler, and we would both hit the road backpacking, going to different restaurants, cooking, experiencing different cultures. I started thinking, ‘I can do this.’”

Did he ever “do” it. He went through Asia, Europe, and Canada—a self-described “perpetual sous chef”—working the line and discovering new ingredients and cuisines. But as Sean traveled, he kept noticing something else. “I saw CIA grads wherever I went, and they were always promoted ahead of me,” he explains. “So I decided that one day, when I got to America, I was going to check out this college.”

That day came when he took a job at a summer camp in Cape Cod, MA, teaching climbing and helping out in the kitchen. An avid rock climber, he visited the Hudson Valley area to check out “The Gunks,” the Shawangunk Mountains. He was pleasantly surprised to discover the CIA was practically right there. Twelve days later, he was a student. “I was blown away by the campus,” Sean says. “It’s different than in Australia, more focused on professionalism and career-oriented. Back home, you’d need two and a half years of apprentice learning to equal the first nine months at the CIA. I loved my time at the college. It was great having New York City down the road, and it was a huge personal growth period for me.”

After graduation, he spent a decade “working with like-minded chefs” in some of Las Vegas’s most respected kitchens, including Bradley Ogden, Commander’s Palace, Louis’s Fish Camp, db Brasserie, and Society Café at Encore. Sean joined Blau and Associates in 2011 and spent the next few years as a senior chef consultant, once again hitting the road to locations such as Lebanon, Canada, and all over the United States. But returning to the CIA was “always on the back burner” for him, and when he saw a posting online for a faculty position there, he jumped at the opportunity and joined his alma mater’s teaching team.

Sean says he would definitely encourage international students to follow his lead and check out the CIA for their culinary education. “It’s very demanding, but I don’t think there’s a better school out there,” he says. “Life is full of choices, and a good education helps you make the right ones. The level of student the CIA is putting out is better than any other school in the world. I could not believe how fast the CIA got me to where I wanted to be after graduating.”

The Culinary Institute of America

1946 Campus Drive
Hyde Park, NY 12538-1499

Close Menu