July 2, 2022

Part I Discussing Mental Health Inside The CIA with Chef Abbey


As a young lady, chef Abbey Miller thought she wanted to be a crime investigator. Little did she know she would make it all the way to the CIA... but the delicious one: The Culinary Institute of America. She was the first recipient of the Anthony Bourdain Scholarship from the CIA.  Hear what it was like attending the CIA, and listen to Abbey talk about the importance of a healthy culinary culture, mental health, and her realization that there is true nobility in cooking for others when “everyone needs to eat”.



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Transcript

Michael Dugan:

Today on the show, I want to introduce you to Chef Abby Miller. Abby was the first recipient of the Anthony Bourdain scholarship through the Culinary Institute of America. And she's also received a minor in Asian cuisine. When she graduated, she found that she had a love of writing, photography and travel. Abbey, welcome to the show.

Chef Abbey:

Hi, thank you so much for having me. Such an honor to finally connect with you and have a real world conversation. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Especially through the past two years. Now of COVID, which is insane. It's just amazing to be able to connect with people who are across the country from you. I think it's incredible.

Michael Dugan:

Social media has now allowed us to connect us not just across the country, but across the world. I mean, the people that you and I have met through social media, it blows my mind.

Chef Abbey:

Yeah, absolutely. Let's get into it. So why don't you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up? I understand that you're really strongly connected to food and can you tell us why? Growing up? I have moved more than about 40 times in my life. And so I've lived in many parts of Florida. I've lived in many parts of New York and I never really found that sense of home or stability in a home sense. So I searched for it through food. I would bake I would, watch my mom in the kitchen. I would be obsessed with food, culinary shows and Food Network and I think the most common show that I can remember watching growing up was man first food and oh my gosh, I for some reason I aspired to, be like him and have a show like that. And it wasn't until about I was in sixth grade. So I was about 12 years old, that my mom and dad opened a restaurant in Buffalo, New York. And they had absolutely no restaurant experience prior to this.

Michael Dugan:

They had never worked in a restaurant before?

Chef Abbey:

My mom she did,Front of House management experience here and there. Yeah, so like a little taste of hospitality, but to build the restaurant from the bottom up. It was definitely a new venture for all of us, actually. And I remember watching them build the kitchen, from the scratch all the way to the shiny stoves and the sparkling utensils, just everything and I was so amazed by it. And my 12 year old self then didn't really understand the kitchen. I was just watching these at the time huge men carry all this stuff and create all these incredible dishes. And watching that restaurant go from literally nothing like an empty lot to having it jam packed with people and being on the news and it being in the newspaper. It was incredible. And so from that moment on, it was definitely what sparked my interest in the hospitality industry and it just seeing the faces of those guests there. I was just, I knew it was what I wanted to do. And it was definitely that's, I think it was the first moment in my life as a 12 year old girl where I was like, this feels like home like this feels like comfort to me because that was something I struggled trying to find as I was growing up, people would think okay, that's when she started chasing her dream was at 12 years old. I didn't really think about working in a kitchen until my senior year of high school. So I kind of put that dream and that love aside and hid it within me for a while because I grew up with five sisters. So they all were in law school and going to be a teacher. So I never wanted to be the youngest sister that was like, oh I want to go cook. Because I was scared of that judgment until my senior year of high school. I got a job at this desert place. And my whole family decided to come visit me one night and it was a crazy busy night and was an open kitchen so they were able to sit down in the restaurant, and they were able to watch me cook and take all the tickets. And it was in that moment. Seeing them watching me and I can remember it so vividly. Like To this day I knew that the line life and the cooking life is like what I want to do and the passion of serving people I found so much joy and happiness in it honestly. And my mom told me that night. Wow, Abbey you were so comfortable up there and you you killed it. I was like, I didn't believe her at the time. End of senior year I graduate high school and by that time I I was enrolled at Mercyhurst University for intelligence studies. That's what I said I was gonna go do and what I was gonna go study I had my roommate picked out. I visited the campus met the president. And it was one morning I woke up I sat on my stairs and I cried and looked at my mom and I was like, I don't want to go there. I was like I want to go here and that was the Culinary Institute of America came I came to this. It came to a shock to my whole family because you're building up. You're giving up one type of CIA for another type of CIA, the cooking world. And I was just like this is what I want to do. And the first time I stepped on campus was moving day and honestly since then, that was truthfully the start of indulging in that spark of loving food so much that sparked in me at 12 years old. Wow. So it was it was a long journey to get there but I'm super thankful for it.

Michael Dugan:

You said intelligence studies are you talking to CIA intelligence?

Chef Abbey:

Yeah, alongside watching Food Network shows, I was obsessed with, bones and Criminal Minds. And I would watch that all the time growing up. So I was super interested in studying the law. And I was like a police officer or forensic studies. And so that's what I was going for. And I yeah, I just kind of put my foot down and was like this isn't for me and I did a total 180.

Michael Dugan:

That's like a 360.

Chef Abbey:

Definitely more like 360.

Michael Dugan:

Right. Wow. Oh my gosh, so. So then you started in the CIA is that in the Culinary Institute of America.

Chef Abbey:

Yeah. So I started August of 2017. My mom moved me and it was just her and I. And I remember she was so nervous. I was nervous too. And she never told me this until about a year later. But she told me that when she moved me in, she thought that there was no way I was going to last longer than like a month at this school. If you tour the campus it is it's very strict and very formal.

Michael Dugan:

I would love to know one of my dreams is to tour the campus. Go to the CIA and not attended but

Chef Abbey:

see it. Yeah, moving day was incredible and having not visited the campus before then. They definitely did everything in their power. To make every single student sort of feel welcome and just happy to be there. From the point of waiting in our car to move into our dorm, they were already passing out cookies and milk and running down, running down the sidewalk and like saying welcome. And we had I do a whole toking ceremony and at this toking ceremony that the parents were there and the families were there and the students had to be in their chef whites. And they had to learn CIA's Mis En Place song. They had a go through the whole acceptance and it wasn't until they walked across the stage and the president of CIA put the toke among our heads. And that was welcoming us and you are officially part of CIA.

Michael Dugan:

Explain what a toke is?

Chef Abbey:

A toke is a chef hat basically a very long white hat. The hat you see on ratatouille? That's okay. Yeah, that way has it's called a toke. And so we would walk across the stage and they would place the toke among our head. And that was that was like welcomed welcoming us in and before that they had talked to the parents and the students were sort of behind stage I believe. And they had given this whole speech to the parents of how tough the CIA is. And they call it the West Point of culinary school and my mom yeah, my mom's sitting in the audience in I guess she was just thinking to her head like, oh my gosh, like, what is Abby getting herself. She she didn't think I was cut out for that stress in the yelling. Yeah. Sure enough, a month down the way. She had many calls and, I was crying. I was stressed. I was like, I don't know what to do. But I yeah, I turned it around. The shy girl who didn't really think she would make her mark ended up being the class speaker for her class three years later. So I, I definitely like I would repeat it in a heartbeat if I could, like I would repeat it 1000 times over. It was the absolute best experience of my life. The most stressful and one of the hardest, but the most rewarding, that's for sure.

Michael Dugan:

So for those who haven't been to cooking school, what's this structure like the curriculum because. I can describe the cooking, I went to cooking school at Scottsdale Community College in Seattle. And it was one of the top three in the country for community colleges and really structured. We had all these different departments and every two weeks you would rotate your station, so you'd start out in prep. And then you'd end up in saute or sauce or you end up being a waiter, and it would just rotate completely around the cooking school so every two weeks you would get a brand new experience. They even had a potluck every day, all the food that was leftover was put into a potluck, and there was a sous chef, quote, unquote, that was that was your role for two weeks is to be the sous chef, and you created the meal for everyone, right based on the ingredients that you had. So it was an amazing learning experience. But that's I guess it might have been similar to CIA, but I don't know.

Chef Abbey:

So actually, that is fairly similar to CIA's how their classes work. When now it's a little different. I understand as the years go on, they're kind of changing how the curriculum works. But when I started, I had a 15 week fundamental class. Basically, what I meant before of how they're changing their curriculum. They're not necessarily changing. They're just adjusting the rotation. People who start now might not take that fundamental class first, they just might take it later down the road. But so when I started, I had that fundamental class first and it was 15 weeks, and you learned all the kitchen fundamentals from Brunoise, Julianne all the fine dice cut see all the mother sauces you learn every basic that you possibly could know, relating to food here and I had an am class so I would wake up

every morning at 4:

30am. I loved it personally. I'm that weird person that for some reason likes the morning more so rather than staying up late at night. So I would wake up at 430 and as a team leader, I had the I had to be the first person there. So I would get there around like 515 ish. And I would have my class come in and certain people would be designated to set up the stations, go get their food from the storeroom, bring it back to the kitchen, and you would just cook what was scheduled that day by your chef, whoever your chef is for that class. And so that's how those 15 weeks would go. And and then after that you would take a meats class for three weeks a fish class for three weeks. You would go work in high volume production, which we call the egg because that is what are like lunch cafeteria places. And so you would go work there. And then you would every student would take a break for four months but not necessarily a break. They wouldn't go work out in the real industry. So they got it amazing experience they would get what is called an externship.

Michael Dugan:

That is what needs to be done because we didnt have that when I went to school, so you graduated and you're like, What do I do?

Chef Abbey:

Exactly A lot of connections too and so for those four months, we'll go out. We get graded by the restaurant, the hotel, whoever you chose to go work with. They'll probably ask you to do a tasting for them in the beginning and at the end to see how you grew at that place. And what's funny is after the externship This isn't to scare anyone, but this is kind of why I like that they do the externship because it allows people to truly get a sense and a feel for. Is this really my passion so after externship. Not everyone genuinely will come back right away. A lot of a lot of people sometimes will say like, okay im going to just stay here and work the food industry isn't necessarily for me. So I love the fact that the externship is there because I think it's a valuable learning experience. Before you actually get thrown out into the real world we're genuinely you are on your own. It allows you to grow in a lot more ways than just one. So I ended up going to Stein Eriksen lodge in Park City, Utah for four months and I went during their busiest season, which was Christmas the Sundance Film Festival. And that was an amazing experience. And,

Michael Dugan:

like, what did you love? And What didn't you like?

Chef Abbey:

Oh god giving arriving there I was definitely homesick for sure. I was far away from Buffalo. It was Christmas time and I wasn't sure how to handle it at first and growing up with you the type of childhood I did, I still struggle learning how to get through certain anxiety. So I was definitely out of my comfort zone when I first arrived. I remember talking to one chef, Chef Lou Bay, and he had called me into the office and this was after I had called my mom that morning, crying saying like, I don't know if I can do this. And he pulled me into the office and he I didn't tell anyone what was going on but he knew and he asked if I was okay. And I told him, I'm just struggling. And he assured me that we're family and that he's here for me, and that I can do this. From that point on? I showed up early every day. I went in on my days off to learn extra things like it really motivated me. Because from that point on, I just kept telling myself If I have this person believing in me and this person believed in me it was it was super empowering because it allowed me to keep pushing myself. I kept telling myself like, okay, I can do it. I didn't want to give up. So it was it was definitely tough. It was my first experience in a fine dining establishment. I was one of the only females in the kitchen at the time. That was very intimidating. As a female in the kitchen, you got to you got to deal with those crappy remarks. That are thrown here and there. So as a 18 year old, I was definitely trying to learn my way through that and allow myself to grow from it. I had the chef's being like oh, please like why can't you stay so I definitely proved myself and I'm really thankful, the amount of times I got yelled at and the amount of times they push me.

Michael Dugan:

Getting yelled at though that's the restaurant business many don't don't understand. The smashing of a plate that the cussing the cursing, the screaming. I had a waitress throw a bowl of hot soup at me once and she was just angry in general. She wasn't angry at me. That stopped me in my tracks. But it is commonplace. It shouldn't be. It really shouldn't be. But the pressure can be really, really intense. And people build off steam in very strange ways and they shouldn't but that's the reality of it.

Chef Abbey:

Yes, and that kind of brings up an important topic I want to get to a little later in regards it doesn't have to be the way that it is in the kitchen and in the industry. And that's something that I'm definitely trying to work on and bring awareness. I think you can still serve bomb ass food while having a nice kitchen culture. And you don't have to, degrade your cooks and chefs, if they make a mistake, or it doesn't have to be as brutal as it is.

Michael Dugan:

And let's talk this is the perfect time to bring it up and share with our audience and talk about it because I agree with you.

Chef Abbey:

I'm very open and vulnerable with is mental health. I am super honest about that. Since about eighth grade I've struggled with anxiety, depression and PTSD and it's Slow really, really slow. something I've become super humble about and accepting that if other people have that, like it's okay. And knowing that it's nothing to be ashamed about. And dealing with mental health while being in a very brutal industry, it definitely hurts you for sure, especially if you're at an establishment that doesn't necessarily support mental health, support the fact that as a cook, you still have a life outside the kitchen. At 22 years old, I felt myself experiencing burnout symptoms. I was having major panic attacks before going into work. I suffering from like severe imposter syndrome, meaning. I felt like I wasn't good enough in the kitchen, and I was really, hard on myself and I was like I'm 22 years old, I just graduated. I shouldn't be burnt out and I'm not blaming the kitchen industry itself. It definitely has to do with I really went I mean, I understand like, I definitely have like struggle with mental health beforehand, but the industry it definitely, it brings that opening eye to it. If they don't support it. I've been at places that told me I couldn't work the line because I was too intimidating to the men and too distracting as a female to the man line. So it's, it's just moments like that where you have to put your foot down and be like, okay, I have to understand my worth and I have to move on. And that's something that's super hard, and I think I'm watching a lot of friends and fellow workers, like I've graduated with, leave the industry because they just think that this is how it's supposed to be and they can't handle it. And I don't want to see that I watched these people kick ass through school. And I know how good they are. And like, I know what they're all capable of. It's just a matter of that the industry that we're walking into, is the industry of such old and modern ways they don't want they don't want to like change with the times and Us we're so what do they want to call us Boomer or not Boomers, Gen Z. They definitely, we, there's a lot of opinions about us, but we're just we're trying to move with the times and trying to make mental health something to not be ashamed of and trying to make workplaces worth working and that's something Chef Jensen taught me and brought awareness to my eyes. I did not really understand what that meant until I sat down and was like, I'm not at a workplace right now that is supporting my mental health. And it was at that point where I realized how important it really is to establish a workplace that has, that positive energy and accepting that we all have a life outside of work and we all have those struggles and we shouldn't be scared to go up to our bosses and, say that we're feeling underappreciated or undervalued or, Hey, like, I'm having a bad day, like, can I go take a second? Just little things like that. We shouldn't be scared of and I think that's what a lot of things that need to change. I want to see that the people that I graduated with, continue in the industry because I know they love it for what it is. And I know that there's so many positive changes they all want to do to it. It's just a matter of like, are we able to get our foot in the door or is it going to constantly be like the old ways and so, yeah, it's rough, but we just got to keep pushing and speaking up about it.

Michael Dugan:

As a career coach, and I still am I do it on the side, but I think it's important to ask the right questions. In other words, when you go to interview with someone, you think about it, like you're not going to accept the position unless it's right for you. And a lot of people don't do that they accept it because they're offered it. But the more the more times you pound the pavement and the more opportunities that you look at, the more choices you have. So a lot of people first job they're offered, they take it and then they deal with whatever happens, and then they leave. But if you step back and you think about what do you want, and you make a list, and one of the one of the strategies is you look at previous work that you've done, and you evaluate those jobs and you say, here's what I loved about this job and you make a list of all those things. Here's what I hated about this job, like you're angry or frustrated, or he just didn't like it right. And then you realize that there are certain patterns that different restaurants, different hotels, different places in hospitality have it's a culture. I work for a company now that really values their employees, like really values during the pandemic. They gave us two extra days off, just to have a mental health day. It was a total surprise to the whole company. Another thing I really value is volunteering, actually get paid time off to volunteer because of my company because they see working at a nonprofit and volunteering and giving your time as value. Now, of course, the company gets a huge benefit by doing that, but they built that into their culture. So when you look for those kinds of organizations, even in the hospitality industry, they exist. That's the key I think, is making that right choice. Connecting to the right chef that has those values like Chef Jensen, and Chef Mimi, and to me that's, that's the key. And I didn't do that. In my early days in the restaurant business. I just went along and I said, okay, here's this opportunity. I'll take it. And then I left. Six months I left stayed a year and another place but I left because I wasn't fulfilled right and so what you're talking about, I think it's culture. And even though we can paint a picture and say, the whole restaurant business is a disaster. It's not. It depends on the culture of the organization, I believe.

Chef Abbey Miller Profile Photo

Chef Abbey Miller

Chef Abbey

-๐˜Š๐˜๐˜ˆ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ญ๐˜ถ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข โ€˜20
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-๐˜”๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜Š๐˜ถ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ
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