Often, necessity is the mother of invention… and when you decide to reinvent yourself, you had better choose something that you love to do! Chef Bob Aungst was born in New Jersey and went to college in upstate New York, where he worked as a real estate broker and owned a successful real estate franchise. While he loved the interaction with his clients, Bob began to feel he needed a “change,” so he thought “What do I like to do?” The answer was “entertain people and cook,” so he soon found himself in Culinary Arts school at Schenectady College.
“With my real estate business and my two small children, choosing to attend Schenectady College was the best decision I could’ve made. They were a small school, which gave me great flexibility with my education, and they were wonderful to me.” Three weeks into the program, Chef Bob got an interesting call from the Dean of the Culinary Arts program, “He said, ‘Bob, I think you need to apply for this internship…’ I didn’t know what he meant, but he said I would be perfect for it… and he told me it was The Kentucky Derby. That was my very first special event, and I’ve done eighteen Kentucky Derby’s since then!” This internship opened the door to the rest of Chef Bob’s culinary career, which has boasted many major sporting events and conventions, feeding an average of over 2 million people a year!
“I manage both the front and the back of the house at an event, which requires a lot of coordination. We may have 10 thousand clients for breakfast, 15 thousand for lunch, another 10 or 15 thousand for dinner, and then a smaller reception for 8 thousand people after that… and that’s all in one day… and the day after that, and after that, and so on… so, it definitely keeps you on your toes!”
In between giant events, Chef Bob often will coordinate small affairs for his private clients, and also several charity events. “There are a lot of spinning plates, but I thrive on the variety of venues, locations, and sizes of the events… I truly love what I do. It is impossible to get in a rut because no week or month looks the same. It is always a challenge that is fresh and exciting!”
Chef Bob insists the most important element is designing an event is the initial idea. “You start with the idea, then you move to the concept, and that is where the art is created. You ask yourself, ‘What does it look like, taste like… what does it mean for the client, how is it presented to the guests?’” Once he is done with the creative side, it is time to make it all happen on the managerial side, to staff, organize, and cover the logistics of the event. “It is a balancing act, bouncing back and forth between ‘artist’ and ‘manager.’”
When asked what he believes makes a good chef, Chef Bob cautions, “If you don’t love making others happy, don’t get into hospitality, don’t become a chef… because, most of the time, you won’t know if you are making them happy or not. So you have to do it for yourself, for your love of it, and that will carry you through between the few times that you actually hear from a guest, how they enjoyed your work and that you made a difference to them that day.” Pleasing the guests is always the top priority, “As a chef, you are in a special position to give someone the best night, the best experience, so go out of your way to do just that. Be willing to make a difference. That is how you go from failure to success, from good to great… see that opportunity and take advantage of it.”
So, the next time you are making a sandwich, just remember Chef Bob Aungst’s advice: “Create, Organize, Execute.” One down, 9,999 to go!