“I hear so many people say they dread going to work in the morning or that they live for the weekends, and I think, ‘That’s too bad,’” Chef Candy Argondizza, West New York native and Director of Culinary Arts at the world-famous International Culinary Center said. “I can’t wait to get to work in the morning. Every day I am challenged in a good way, every day I have the opportunity to make a difference, and I’m really thankful.”
In this recent “foodie” age, in large part instigated by the Food Network and a subsequent slew of television shows that have elevated chefs to celebrity status, perhaps one may be inclined to believe that the track to a high profile position such as Argondizza’s is a fast one; or moreover, one that is easily achieved.
It is not.
“It’s a labor of love,” she said, both of cooking and of teaching. “The hours are long and hard, you work weekends and holidays, and the pay is not fantastic.” She obtained her first gig cooking for her college’s food service 32 years ago, and has never realistically imagined herself doing anything else since.
“In my heart and soul I’m a chef, but being an instructor is something I’ve come to adore.” – Chef Candy Argondizza
“When she first came here, she was an instructor like all the others,” the center’s Senior Vice President for Education and Student Affairs Christopher Papagni said. He enthusiastically recommended Argondizza for the IACP award. “She earned her title over a short period of time, but she still chooses to teach because that’s her passion. The award couldn’t be more well-deserved, and all of us at the school are just so very proud.”
Chef Instructor and Coordinator Jason Potanovich has worked under Argondizza’s direct supervision since her promotion two years ago. “I’ve said it all along from the time I entered this place that I have never worked with a more respected chef on any level,” he explained. “Words can’t even describe how much she means to the school. She’s unbelievable.”
Roots and fruits
“You don’t realize it as a kid, because the food you grow up with is a given,” Argondizza explained. “As you get older, so many memories and ideas about food stem from your upbringing.”
Born into and raised by an extended Italian family, she extolled the virtues of her grandmother’s cooking and reminisced how the smells, sights, and sounds of hours of loving preparation worked their way into her subconscious. She was unaware at the time just how deeply her life would be affected.
As for whether or not she knew at such a young age what career track she would take, “Absolutely not,” she responded. “Like any 18-year-old who goes off to college, I was hoping to figure it out then.”
Drawn to the geography, she chose Colorado’s Western State College and entertained the idea of becoming a forest ranger until she started working for Saga Food Service.
“It just clicked,” Argondizza recalled. “It was creative, exciting, physical; all the things that I loved.” Spurred on by her new passion and setting the shoot-for-the-stars trend that would follow her throughout her life, she attended the internationally renowned Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and graduated at the top of her class in 1981.
She then embarked on the notorious Manhattan chef circuit, sweating out her passion in some of Manhattan’s greatest kitchens from Fiorello’s to Tavern on the Green to Blue Light until two decades later when a teacher-friend at the gym turned her on to the instructive arts. She began as chef instructor at the International Culinary Center – home of the legendary French Culinary Institute – and rose through the ranks to director in a mere 12 years.
“I was at a point in my career where I was looking for the next step,” Argondizza explained. “In my heart and soul I’m a chef, but being an instructor is something I’ve come to adore.”
Top chef: the real deal
“I’ve been in education for 30 years, and Candy is one of the finest teachers I’ve ever known,” Papagni said. “She is extremely smart and knowledgeable, and at the same time she is incredibly patient with students and staff alike.”
Argondizza oversees 60 chefs, counsels students, develops and maintains the integrity of the curriculum, and creates recipes for and oversees the center’s renowned student-run restaurant, L’Ecole. With such a schedule, she is not required to be as hands-on as she is, but she insists.
“Being involved makes me a better manager,” she said. “I know people’s jobs aren’t easy because I’ve been there, and it’s my job to make their jobs easier – and better.”
When she heard she had made the IACP’s cut with a nomination for teacher of the year, she was excited, but didn’t really think anything would come of it.
Potanovich believes her win was a no-brainer.
“No matter who you ask, no one could choose just one thing about her to explain why she won,” he said. “There are just so many things. It speaks for itself when you’re around her in a kitchen.”
Where does one go after reaching the professional heights Argondizza has modestly, and rightfully, scaled?
“I hope she remains with us for years,” Papagni said. “We’re very fortunate to have her.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com