UT Culinary & Catering Program’s Chef Robert Allen is a San Antonio, Texas, native who moved to East Tennessee in June 2015 to become corporate chef at Citico’s Restaurant & Club at WindRiver Lakefront Golf Community in Lenoir City.
He garnered his first local honor in November 2014 by winning the March of Dimes Signature Chefs competition with his Cuban Sandwich Cigar.
The Le Cordon Bleu of Austin, Texas, graduate has a passion for cooking and enjoys sharing his knowledge with others. Following graduation from culinary school, he joined the advisory board of the Austin school where he worked directly with students.
“With every new class that started, I would do a demonstration for them and help them acclimate to the culinary school life and give them advice, answer questions and help as much as I could,” he said.
We sat down with Chef Robert to learn more about what inspires him and what advice he has for students who want to start their own culinary career.
Q: What made you want to become a chef?
A: My father was a chef and that was a big influence. When I was about 14, we moved to a new town, and the first people I met owned a restaurant. We became good friends, and I started working at their restaurant and haven’t stopped cooking since.
Q: What is your favorite part about teaching?
A: Meeting new people and being able to give back is hands down my favorite part about teaching. I’m very lucky to work with a lot of talented people in my career, and it feels great to help people along as they follow their dreams.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most important part about food, cooking, etc.?
A: Everybody has to eat, but everyone’s palate is different.
Q: When running a food business, what is the key to success?
A: Hard work and commitment, because you’ll have a great day one day, and the next day you might want to quit and feel like nothing’s going right. You have to persevere, be open to new ideas and concepts of doing things. If you’re stuck in your ways, you won’t get very far.
Q: If there is one thing you’d want your student chefs to remember, what would it be?
A: Always stay humble and remember that the customer comes first.
Q: What would you say to someone who’s thinking about enrolling in the UT program?
A: It’s a wonderful place to start, but having a goal in mind for after graduation will really help you focus on something while you’re in class. Work on having a plan for after school while you’re in school. The UT Culinary & Catering Program teaches you a lot in a short amount of time, so it goes by really quickly; the next thing you know, you’re graduated. There are a lot of networking opportunities available, so take advantage of them so you can have a job lined up.