Central grad accepted to top cooking schoolWritten by Amy Campbell | | email@example.com
Patrick Neal started cooking for the simplest of all reasons: it was summer break, and the then-sophomore at Central Catholic High School was hungry. “My dad was a business guy and my mom worked,” Neal, now 19, explained. “I’d experiment during the day because I needed to eat something.”
Those experiments turned out to be the spark that ignited Neal’s passion for cooking, and a commitment to it that has won Neal acceptance to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.
From those first experiments in his own kitchen, Neal moved on to Kitchen Tools and Skills, a shop in Perrysburg that offered cooking classes and demonstrations by guest chefs from around the area. Neal was particularly impressed by Marcel Hessling, then head chef at the Toledo Zoo.
“After his demo I asked him if I could go and work with him for just one day,” Neal said. Hessling agreed, and was evidently equally impressed with his young apprentice.
“He offered me a job the same day I worked,” Neal said. He spent the next two months at the zoo, gaining commercial kitchen experience that would turn out to be crucial for his CIA acceptance.
“They require six months of experience,” Neal said, “and if you don’t have it, you don’t go.”
But the road to the CIA hasn’t been without its twists and turns. When Neal graduated from Central Catholic in 2010 he’d already thought about culinary school, but kept it to himself and stayed on a more traditional path to the University of Cincinnati and a major international business. As the son of Terry Neal, president and CEO of Impact Products in Toledo, the aspiring chef knew which field was likely to be more lucrative.
“I knew in business I’d make more money,” Neal said.
But after a year at UC, he realized he’d made the wrong choice.
“When you’re not doing what you want to do, and you know what you do want to do, the days drag on,” he said.
So, last March, Neal told his parents he wanted to leave UC and go to culinary school.
“I was really nervous,” he said. “But they said they pretty much knew that’s what I wanted to do anyway.”
In fact, mom Debi said she and he husband were more surprised by their son’s first choice.
“When Patrick decided on international business, my husband was floored,” she said with a laugh. “When he told us about culinary school, we weren’t surprised at all.”
And by the time he told them, she said, the wheels were already in motion.
“He’d already applied to the CIA,” she said. “He told us, ‘That’s the one I want to go to. I’m not going to settle for just cooking.’”
So far, Neal is the only student from Ohio to be accepted to the CIA for this fall. He’s in the process of fulfilling his commercial experience requirement, working at Chowders n’ Moor in Holland.
“They’ve got me doing a little bit of everything,” he said.
The CIA is considered by many to be the premier culinary school in the world, and counts some of the country’s best-known chefs and restaurateurs among its alumni. Neal will pursue a bachelor of culinary arts degree, a program that typically takes 38 months to complete. And after that?
“My goal is definitely to own my own restaurant,” he said.
In addition to bachelors’ and associates’ degrees, the CIA offers classes for food enthusiasts, including a selection of week-long “boot camps” centered on various skills and cuisines. To find out more about the CIA, visit www.CIAchef.edu.