5 Culinary Greats Share Their Best Advice for Graduates

published May 8, 2017
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Congratulations, graduate, and welcome to your brave new world. We’ve got plenty of guidance for you as you make your first few steps into new terrain. But making it on your own requires more than a couple sharp knives and a few go-to recipes. When times get tough, take comfort from a few words of wisdom from people who were once in your shoes.

We’ve rounded up some of the best pieces of advice, straight from real commencement addresses delivered by food-world luminaries. With any hope, they’ll give you the confidence to go forth and cook up something great — no matter what career path you’re on.

(Not a recent graduate? Forward this link to someone who is. But also, it’s still worth a read. If you like feeling inspired, that is.)

1. Write your own recipe for success.

“When we go by the book, we lose our ability to adapt, to be creative. Sometimes you will find yourself without an ingredient or two. It will seem like everything is going wrong. If things don’t go as expected, make the unexpected work in your favor. Change the name of the dish.” — José Andrés, speaking to the class of 2014 at George Washington University

2. Serve up the best version of yourself.

“As you move off into the world to become whatever successes you’re going to become, it’s more important to figure out who you are and be it. It is better to be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else, or a second-rate version of the person that other people want you to be. Like your parents, or a spouse, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Your life, your life alone. You come in it by yourself and you’ve got to make those decisions by yourself. Be you first and foremost.” — Alton Brown, speaking to the class of 2010 at the University of Georgia

3. Keep the kitchen — and everything around you — nice and clean .

“Cook with a dirty fryer, and you cook garbage. Start with a clean fryer, and you get something perfect, simple, and poetic. Just like all of cooking, and all of life. Garbage in, garbage out. Truth in, truth out.” — Mario Batali, speaking to the 2005 class at Rutgers University

Read more of the speech: How Mario Batali’s First Job Changed His Life at Men’s Journal

4. Savor every bite of the simple pleasures.

“Remember that success in life is very simple and very complex. Success in life is to be happy with yourself, with what you are, with what you do. If you love what you do, you never have to go to work. Money for the sake of money doesn’t make a person happy, although it may contribute to it a fair amount. Don’t forget the simple pleasures of life. For me, it is still sharing a meal or a bottle of wine with friends, the enjoyment of being with families and friends. To share. This is true happiness.” — Jacques Pepin, speaking to the 2010 class at Columbia University School of General Studies

5. Be a good sous chef.

“To become one of the best, you have to work with the best.” — Daniel Boulud, speaking to the December 2013 class at The Culinary Institute of America

See more of the speech: Daniel Boulud Gives Commencement Address at CIA