Welcome to Baker College’s Spotlight feature, a series of brief interviews with notable BC students, faculty and alumni who are making news and reaching new heights in their educational and professional pursuits.
This edition of Spotlight features Chef Amanda Miller, instructor at Baker College’s Culinary Institute of Michigan (Muskegon campus). Recently, Chef Amanda was featured as one of eight top pastry chef talents competing on the first-ever season of Netflix’s popular, School of Chocolate. Here we learn more about Chef Amanda and her professional path and passions.
Baker College (BC): Hi, Chef, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with our readers. To start, please tell us a little bit about your time and various roles at Baker College’s Culinary Institute of Michigan (CIM).
Amanda Miller (AM): I started out at the CIM as a student in 2012. I graduated from the Baking & Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts programs in 2014 and 2015. I became a chef instructor at the CIM in the fall of 2015. In addition to that main role, I also am a student mentor, a member of the CIM Advisory Board and serve as the ACF (American Culinary Federation) West Michigan Lakeshore Chapter Association President. I also coach the CIM Knowledge Bowl Team, and help to prepare student chefs for a variety of sanctioned industry competitions. Currently, I also am working on completing my Bachelor of Business Administration degree through Baker College.
BC: So, you came to the CIM campus as a new student and never left…what a testament to the program! Why did you choose Baker College/CIM for your educational pursuits?
AM: Honestly, choosing to go to the CIM was like fate stepped in. I knew that I wanted to pursue something in the culinary arts, but not much beyond that. Baker College had the closest culinary school to where I was living at the time, and offered a baking and pastry program. I chose the CIM, and the rest is history!
BC: We’re so thrilled for the path that led you here today. Please tell us a bit more about some of the responsibilities associated with your current role as a chef instructor? What might a typical day look like for you?
AM: The best way to describe my day as a chef instructor at the CIM is, “tentative.” While teaching the normal curriculum in Café and Restaurant Production, my role also includes production manager for The Sweet Spot (our on-site café) and as executive pastry chef of Courses Restaurant (our on-site, student-run teaching restaurant). Each and every day brings a new set of tasks and challenges, especially as we work to balance the demand for and create all of the sweet and savory items for The Sweet Spot, with customer needs and production demands changing daily. That’s one thing I love about my role…there is never a dull moment.
BC: That sounds like an understatement! What is it that you like best about your work? Conversely, what do you find most challenging?
AM: The thing I like most about my role as chef instructor is the ability I have to make an impact on my students. I see my role as instructor/coach/mentor as an opportunity to give them the best student experience possible, and to help them get the most out of their time with us at the CIM. What I find the most challenging about my role is the constant race against time. In the culinary world, we are built around meeting deadlines, so making sure that my students and I are using the time we have together wisely is always challenging. Whether it be the limited class time to get a task accomplished before day’s end, or having to settle with the less-than-perfect chocolate showpiece because we ran out of time to complete our vision to the fullest…there is unfortunately never enough time to do everything we want to accomplish.
BC: I think a lot of us can empathize with that race-against-time feeling! But we know your training outside of the kitchen also has equipped you as a leader. As a veteran of the U.S. Army, please share with us a bit about your time serving our country, and how you transitioned into culinary arts from there?
AM: Once people find out that I am a U.S. Army vet, they always ask if I was a cook in the Army? I was not. My job in the Army was Special Electronics Repair. I worked on things like computers, fiber optics, communication systems, night vision goggles and the Blue Force Tracker, which is the Army’s version of the GPS system. I was in the Army for just over four years, with one deployment to Afghanistan. After my deployment, I left the Army and was looking to change my career, when I decided it was time to pursue my passion for baking and cooking. Making the transition from the Army to the culinary field was actually easier than I expected, as they share some similarities of discipline, time management, teamwork, etc. I found the CIM and found my new home.
BC: And you’ve found a lot of success in your time with the CIM family, winning numerous awards and recognitions for your culinary work. Can you tell us one achievement that is particularly significant to you, and why?
AM: It’s true that I have won numerous awards and recognitions for my work, but the experiences that are particularly significant to me are the times that I have only received a certificate of participation. I hold those in the highest regard because those represent the times that I learned the most lessons. A gold medal is always nice, but I appreciate the journey getting there even more. I am always striving to learn from my mistakes, to be the best version of myself, so when I do win awards, I know it is because I really earned them. In turn, I can pass everything that I have learned onto my students, so they can be the best versions of themselves.
The other achievements that I hold dear are the times when my students are recognized for their hard work. When the CIM Knowledge Bowl Team won the national championship, I cannot express in words the pride I felt for those students as I watched them achieve their goals. Their performance was awe-inspiring, and I couldn’t have asked any more from them…absolutely amazing!
A final example of an achievement that I value most are found in the, “student becomes the teacher” moments. Those are the times that the student has taken the instruction, guidance, advice, etc. that I have given them, and they have created outstanding achievements for themselves. I have a student/graduate that has taken every opportunity to learn from me, and has now surpassed me in gold medal achievements with her work on chocolate sculptures. She is just one example of how I can impact my students and make a difference in their lives. They are my achievements.
BC: Recently you had a chance to become the student once again as a contestant on Netflix’s popular, School of Chocolate. Tell us a bit about that opportunity. What did you take away from that experience?
AM: Being a part of Netflix’s School of Chocolate was such an incredible experience. I am still mind-blown that I was even chosen for the opportunity! I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn from one of the best in the industry, Chef Amaury Guichon. Additionally, I got to work and learn alongside of some of the most talented pastry chefs in the country. Throughout the show, you see us work through several pastry and chocolate showpiece challenges. Viewers can watch as we all learn and grow, and witness the emotional roller coaster we all went on. It was nice for me to have the opportunity to step back into the shoes of a student, and I can definitely say that having that experience has made me a better instructor. Plus, I get to take everything I learned on the show and teach it to my students!
Being on the show was a moment for me to practice what I preach…I always tell my students to push themselves outside of their comfort zone, and that is exactly what I had to do on School of Chocolate. My biggest take-away from the show is how much people appreciated that we showed our vulnerability. I knew that everyone would see a side of me that they had never seen before, but it was the best part of the experience, because it showed that I am human.
BC: Well, we’ve watched every episode, but won’t risk any spoilers here! As you continue to add more time and experience to your career, what best piece of advice would you share with current culinary students, or those considering pursuing a degree in the culinary arts?
AM: Never stop learning. Take advantage of every opportunity, big or small. Soak it all in like a sponge, and make sure to take notes…you never know when they can come in handy! Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, because more than likely, many of your fellow students have the same one.
BC: Thank you again for your time and insights, Chef Amanda!
Readers can see all of Chef Amanda’s newest creations on her instagram page at @chefamandamiller!