And we’re back! For those of you who are just joining this mini-series, we will be telling the stories of some of the most inspirational, world-renowned chefs that have graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America to go on to be legends in their field.
Last time, we spoke about Enrique Olvera, the Mexican wonder-chef who successfully managed to meld European fine-dining techniques with his own cultural flare. On that note I would like to introduce our next subject: Michael Mina.
Michael Mina was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1969 before moving to the USA at the age of 2. Michael Mina recounts that in his early days, his mother would make Middle Eastern delicacies that would fill his house with incredible smells. After the food was made, his family would gather and converse for hours, in the Mina household, food was an experience to be enjoyed as a group. It was this idea that first attracted a young Michael Mina to the culinary world.
Mina would begin his culinary career at the age of 15, at the Garde Manger position of a small French restaurant in his hometown. It is there that Michael Mina began to learn the ins and outs of the kitchen from the bottom up, he would later credit that time as when he decided he wanted to become a chef.
After graduating from high school, Michael Mina and the family Mina decided that if he were to achieve his dreams of becoming a chef, he needed to learn from the best. To this end he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America.
His education at CIA would serve as a “springboard” For Michael Mina to begin working under chef Charlie Palmer (another CIA graduate!) in the high-end Aureole restaurant during his weekends while studying for his degree. The effect of this side job was immense on Mina, he has later stated that Palmer was one of the young chef’s greatest and most influential mentors.
After graduating from CIA, Michael Mina would immediately accept a position from one of his culinary idols, George Morron (yet another graduate of CIA-see the pattern yet?) in the famous Bel Air hotel in Los Angeles, having already pursued an internship there through the CIA. It was at this time that Michael Mina would confer with Morron to create the menu and design of an upscale seafood restaurant in San Francisco. And thus: Aqua was born!
Aqua, the first restaurant to be designed by Michael Mina, was an immediate success and the young chef quickly came into his own in his profession, moving up from chef de cuisine to Executive chef in almost no time- he held the position in the restaurant for 9 years.
While Mina excelled in and enjoyed his role as an executive chef, he knew he had the potential for more. The man wanted an empire. So in 2002 Michael Mina split from Aqua and formed the Mina group in 2002 with former tennis great Andre Agassi as his partner. Under the Mina Group, Michael Mina would go on to open 45 operations under his visionary leadership. The pioneering restaurant of this group, Michael Mina, Is a Michelin star restaurant that blends the traditional US/European techniques alongside a Middle Eastern flair of Mina’s cultural roots.
Both the Mina Group and the man himself have gone on to win numerous accolades, with Michael Mina winning three James Beard Awards—for Rising Star Chef in 1997, Best California Chef in 2002, and Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in 2013. Michael Mina has also frequently appeared in the media, having published multiple books about his craft and appearing in various TV and video series in the culinary world.
To sum up, Michael Mina worked hard to get where he is, and there are no shortcuts for this. However, he was able to get accelerated to his professional goals by pursuing his degree with CIA. In fact, while Mina even now says that he values hard work over education, he will also admit that the Culinary Institute of America is an institution that will help your career.
Michael Mina is a man that pulled himself up by his bootstraps, but even the most determined and resourceful of us can use tools and education to help on our way. Mina chose to pursue a degree at CIA. If you would like to follow in his footsteps and take the plunge into higher culinary education with CIA then just email us at [email protected] and we will assist you in finding one.
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