These days, there is no shortage of culinary stars on TV to inspire aspiring young
As a child growing up in Walbridge,
chefs – think Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray, to name a few.
Before them, the likes of Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), Jacques Pépin and Julia Child guided home cooks step by step through tantalizing recipes.
As a child growing up in Walbridge, Janea Makowski, now 27, found inspiration watching her parents in the kitchen preparing family meals.
“My mom was kind of a baker, and my dad made more of the entrees – that kind of thing,” she said. “I liked watching them and cooking with them.”
As her parents’ 25th anniversary approached, she was looking for an idea for a meaningful present ¬ something she could afford and get on her own.
After Makowski sought suggestions, her sixth-grade teacher suggested making her mom and dad dinner – maybe peanut butter and jelly or something like that.
“I thought about it and knew I could do that,” she said. Scanning the contents of the refrigerator and freezer, the middle schooler put together a menu that included veal parmesan with pasta and a red sauce and garlic bread.
“I had watched my dad make veal parmesan – it wasn’t too complicated – it really just involved making some frozen veal cutlets and adding a few ingredients,” she said.
The dinner was a success, however, the idea of becoming a chef someday remained way on the “back burner.” “I guess the interest was always there,” she said. “I remember in eighth grade, my English would give me assignments that were related to food.”
In high school, guidance counselors encouraged Makowski to think about pursuing her interests, suggesting the culinary program at Penta Career Center.
“But I was a bit of a procrastinator – I think I waited until the last day to turn my application into the culinary program,” she said.
She entered the program her junior year and began developing basic cooking skills under the tutelage of instructors Jim Rhegness and Denise Schaefer.
Between her junior and senior years, she took a job in the kitchen at Maumee Bay Brewing Company – a pantry position in charge of salads and desserts. “It’s a step up from dishwasher,” she said.
One day, a speaker from Mainstreet Ventures talked to her Penta class about a new restaurant that would be opening at The Docks in Toledo. She applied for and got a job at Real Seafood.
“I loved it,” she said. “The adrenaline rush you get is crazy though I kind of look back on it now and wonder, how did I go to Penta, do homework and work until 11 or 12 at night, and then get back up and do it all over again?” After graduation in 2000, Makowski decided to pursue her passion and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where she earned an associate’s degree, a process that took just under two years.
She subsequently returned to Mainstreet Ventures and was offered a job as a sous chef at a restaurant the company would be opening in Florida.
“I eventually opened three restaurants for Mainstreet in Florida, working as a sous chef and finally as an executive chef,” she said. “To go through the hiring and training of staff, through the soft opening and right into the craziness – it’s fun and exciting.”
Though her work was fulfilling, she missed her family back in Northwest Ohio. “And I thought there was more for me to learn about my own personal style with food,” she said.
Her career path led her to Cleveland, where she worked in a fine dining restaurant, and subsequently as an executive chef at Carson’s American Bistro in Ann Arbor, where she stayed for about three and a half years.
“I was finding that one of the biggest aspects I enjoyed about my job was trying to teach people what I’ve learned – to impart the hows and whys, which is a bit of a struggle in the restaurant business because it is so fast-paced,” she said. “There’s not a lot of time – as a chef, you have so many responsibilities on your plate.”
When her former instructor Denise Schaefer called her to see if she’d be interested in a teaching position that would be opening up in the Penta Culinary Program, Makowski dismissed the idea of teaching.
“I told her I wasn’t interested, that I was happy with the position I had at Carson’s,” she said. “But then I thought, what if…
“Then when she called again, I thought maybe it was meant to be,” Makowski said. “So I went through the interview process and decided to go for it.
“I guess you could say I’ve come full circle,” she said. “I’m really enjoying getting to know the students and the facilities at Penta are out of this world –bigger and more state-of-the-art than my former restaurant.
“I took a workshop that enabled me to get a teaching certificate and will continue to take classes to get certified,” Makowski said, adding that she plans to go back to school to get a bachelor’s degree.
“Coming back to Penta, I feel like I’ve found my home,” Makowski said. “I’m happy and excited to come to work.”
Does she miss the hectic life in the restaurant kitchen?
“At 8 o’clock the bell rings and kids come in and you’re running the whole day, and in the evenings, I have a couple of hours of work to do in preparation for the next day, so it’s still pretty hectic,” she said.
“But I do enjoy having the weekends off,” she said. “And my family is happy I took the job because now they’re finally going to get to see me.”