Matthew Ward '13

In 2013, Matthew Ward graduated from the College of Charleston with a psychology degree. Now, he works as Chef de Cuisine for the Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef's Garden in Milan, Ohio. Although, psychology and food don't necessary go hand-in-hand, Matthew says that his degree prepared him for a number of responsibilities he currently takes on.

CVIWhy did you decide to attend the College of Charleston and pursue a psychology degree?

I took a few psychology courses as electives and really enjoyed it, so it made sense. As I got further along into psychology, I discovered some really amazing professors and continued to take courses they were teaching. I love the Psychology Department at the college and the fact that the major had such a diverse demographic, it made the classes enjoyable and engaging.

How would you describe your responsibilities?

I am the Chef de Cuisine at The Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. The Chef’s Garden is a specialty farm that serves the world’s best vegetables to over 800 restaurants in 14 different countries. The Culinary Vegetable Institute will see over 600 chefs a year. Chefs from all over the world come to cook, learn, just visit or bring their teams to do research and development for their own menus.

I get to cook and play with vegetables, plants, herbs and flowers all day long! We are team of four in the kitchen and we are constantly looking at food in a different way every single day. My job is to serve the most delicious and unique representation of vegetables grown on the farm. Everyone in the kitchen shares the work- we are the prep cooks, the chefs, and the dishwashers. We are all working towards the same goal.

What is your typical day at work?

Every day is different. Completely different. Some days we are out in the beehives. Somedays we could be out foraging. One day we could be preparing to host a Three Michelin Star guest Chef that we will help cook 12 courses for 20 people or we could be canning and preserving 200 pounds of tomatoes that are overage from the farm. We do it all. Some days are long and grueling 18 hour days to get ready for the most prestigious dinner or some days are short days when we get to do some R&D ourselves.
Part of our job is to also look at new and unique ways to combat food waste. We have become really efficient at managing and repurposing food waste that we are now able to pass that information along to other chefs.

mattHow did your degree help prepare you in your current role? Any specific College experiences stand out as having prepared you (e.g., internship or student abroad opportunities)?

There is more to being a chef than the food. There is menu planning and writing, profit and loss reports, food cost analysis, scheduling, HACCP writing, recipe writing and balancing a work and family life, on top of a hundred other things that can pop up without notice. I worked pretty much fulltime all through college, so I was balancing a 40+ hour work week with a 15-18 hour course load. It took a lot of organization but it was manageable. I have to stay organized as a chef. I am constantly thinking two or three events ahead with what needs to be ordered, how to draft a production schedule and if I will remain within my food cost margins. I’m also thinking about how long the bread has in the oven and when I will have time to go pick herbs from the garden or write a menu for a wedding in a few months which could be before or after I pick up the order from the farm.

What drew you to the Culinary Vegetable Institute?

When I was a young line cook at Fish on King Street, the sous chefs would order specialty produce from The Chef’s Garden. It was like Christmas morning when that box would arrive. I instantly became intrigued. Through my fascination of The Chefs Garden, I discovered the Culinary Vegetable Institute. It was this magical place in the middle of nowhere in Ohio that was preparing and serving some of the world’s best food, and a lot of people have never heard of it! That’s what makes it magical. It’s its own thing that is unique and inviting. 

What advice would you offer students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?
I don’t think my career path is a popular choice amongst students pursing a degree in psychology, but my best advice is this: When you find something you are passionate about, chase it. Pursue it. Make that dream a reality. I never thought I’d grow up to be a chef. If you want to do something, do it. Life is too short to worry about what could have been. If you really want to consider a career in cooking, find a restaurant, start washing dishes, and learn as much as you can. Work your way up, work in as many kitchens for as many chefs as you can. Every chef is different so there is always something to learn.