BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Anyone who’s enjoyed a delicious plate of jambalaya or a bowl of perfectly seasoned crawfish etouffee knows that a good meal has the power to make a dreary day seem brighter. Food can change our mood, outlook, and even the direction of our life.
Chefs Katy Fernbaugh and “B” Williams graduated from Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge. They said going there and learning about food changed their lives for the better.
Williams is especially passionate about Cajun-Creole cuisine and says his hero is Paul Prudhomme. Williams is the executive sous chef at the world-famous Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. He praises LCI for training him.
“I appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of the instructors, each of whom are skilled and naturally gifted,” Williams said. “They would very easily manage and operate their own restaurants and businesses, yet they chose to pour their knowledge into us. I never once took them for granted.”
Fernbaugh enjoys taking savory ingredients that most people would consider comfort food and elevating the presentation of the dishes to make them as elegant and refined as possible. She also creates desserts with savory influences, like rosemary pistachio ice cream and chocolate tarts with pretzel whipped cream.
Fernbaugh works as the executive sous chef at the City Club of Baton Rouge, and she’s thankful to LCI for providing her with the experience needed to help her land the job.
“I appreciated the structure of LCI’s classes and the relationships I built with the other students and instructors the most,” she said.
A blossoming love for food
Williams and Fernbaugh grew up with a love for food.
“I became interested in cooking and its inner workings at an early age,” Williams said. “My grandmother would teach me small things as she prepared meals and during school breaks, she would have me watch cooking shows like “Great Chefs of America,” “The Justin Wilson Cooking Show,” “Pasquale’s Kitchen Express,” just to name a few. Therefore, by the time I was a teenager, I was preparing full meals. I knew early in life I wanted to become a chef. That was all I could ever think about becoming.”
But Williams didn’t jump into his dream career right away. It took time and patience to get there.
“I was working full time at a chemical plant and working part-time as a caterer and decided to follow my dreams of becoming a chef,” Williams said. “LCI has always maintained a reputation of quality and excellence and I knew that if I had the opportunity to go there, it would be life-changing.”
For Williams, taking classes at LCI also meant taking on a challenging schedule.
He said, “I made the sacrifice by working overnight (6 p.m.-6 a.m.) and go to school during the day. I was tired most days but the hard work and sacrifice eventually paid off and I’m a proud graduate of the best culinary school in America.”
Though Fernbaugh also developed an interest in cooking as a child, she had an experience that was quite different from Williams’.
“I remember cooking for myself at a young age as I was always very independent,” she said. “I didn’t grow up in a family that cooked a lot together, in fact, we dined out more than we ate at home. Dining out helped me develop a palette for “good food” but it wasn’t until culinary school that I really learned the science of cooking.”
Like Williams, she didn’t go to LCI right away.
“I started LSU in 2015 with a major in mass communications with hopes of becoming a food writer,” Fernbaugh explained. “I had worked in the service industry since I was 16 but always in the “front of the house” as a hostess, server, bartender, etc. The deeper I got into my service industry career, the more I started taking an interest in the inner workings of the kitchen and dreaming of becoming a restaurateur and owning my own restaurant one day.”
She changed her major to Food Industry Management at LSU but decided she wanted to develop different skills than the program offered.
LCI’s hands-on instruction helps students thrive
“As a Baton Rouge native,” Fernbaugh said, “I was thrilled to learn that I had access to one of the best culinary schools in the country right in my hometown. After taking a tour of LCI in the spring of 2018 and being welcomed with open arms I knew the best decision for me was to drop out of LSU and enroll in LCI.”
Fernbaugh looks back at her time at LCI with fondness and deep appreciation for the way courses were handled.
“I always enjoyed school growing up but I was a terrible test taker and felt that standardized testing wasn’t an accurate way of measuring how much I had actually learned,” she explained.
“At LCI I was able to focus on one class at a time and fully immerse myself into that class’s curriculum without having to juggle multiple other classes at the same time like you see in most other schools,” she continued. “Most classes at LCI consist of textbook learning and hands-on demos or ‘kitchen labs’ so showing up on time, following directions, and putting forth effort played just as big of a role in your final grade as written tests.”
From matchmaking success to TV appearances
Thanks to her tenacity and her classes at LCI, food changed her life in multiple ways.
“I met my husband in a restaurant and have made lifelong friends. It’s given me the opportunity to see the world from many different kinds of people’s points of view,” she said. “LCI opened door for me that I never would have even known existed, like working for The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and working for The American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Food is always changing and evolving and gives me the opportunity to learn something new every day.”
Similarly, Williams said the course of his life has shifted, all thanks to food.
“Food has changed my entire life,” he said. “I’ve been across the United States as a private chef, been featured on multiple network television shows, won multiple cooking competitions, I’ve been hired to cook at The Masters golf tournament three years in a row, and most recently the Kentucky Derby, where I am the executive sous chef of the property (Churchill Downs). Food has not only been life changing but it’s been the most fulfilling journey I’ve ever been on.”
Future dreams and advice for aspiring chefs
Williams now hopes to create a food manufacturing and product distribution facility. He said, “I’d like to build it in the North Baton Rouge area of Louisiana and create another avenue of economic development for the community.”
Fernbaugh has her heart set on working in a Michelin-starred restaurant or earning a star of her own.
When asked what advice she has for aspiring chefs, Fernbaugh said, “To be a real chef takes time and commitment like no other career. It’s not glamorous. It takes real blood, sweat and tears to be successful. That being said, if it’s what you’re really passionate about and you’re willing to make the commitment there’s plenty of resources out there for you and chefs that are willing to take time to teach you and help you reach your full potential.”
Williams and Fernbaugh found LCI useful for opening doors within the local and national food scene. If you’re interested in a similar experience, click here to learn more about the Baton Rouge campus.