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May 28, 2021 – Usually tucked away in a far corner of a sprawling building in a room without a view, high school guidance counselors diligently guide the next generation to their futures. As a high school senior in upstate New York, Michael Ty, chef, culinary entrepreneur, Conseiller Culinaire for the Far West region and Vice Conseiller Culinaire for Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, met with his guidance counselor to learn the results of an aptitude test he took as a junior. The test indicated Michael had strong skills for a career in banking and finance. “I just could not see myself sitting behind a desk in a shirt and tie,” Michael said to Chaîne during a Feb. 23, 2021 telephone interview. Michael asked his counselor if there was another strength revealed by the test. The counselor told him he also scored high in Home Economics. “Are you kidding?” Michael replied.

Induction ceremony for the launch of the Portland, Maine chapter (Photo: Courtesy of Michael Ty)

More than 40 years ago when he attended high school, Home Economics classes primarily taught homemaking skills to girls. Michael equated Home Economics to “Susie Homemaker.” He never thought those courses were a path to a career although upon reflection, he attributes his mother with his interest in cooking. “She loved to cook and made good meals,” Michael said. As an immigrant family in the 1960s, he said he took refuge in the kitchen helping her cook.

His guidance counselor broadened his horizon about Home Economics by introducing Michael to the world of culinary arts as a profession as they reviewed his aptitude test. He could definitely see what his counselor described as his future so he enrolled in the culinary arts program at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cobleskill. “I fell in love with the program and that’s how my career started,” Michael said.

Chef Michael Ty and Chef Reimund Pitz.

After graduating with an Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts, he began his career locally. However, the College of Hard Knocks soon enrolled Michael but education, culinary arts excellence, and the courage of his convictions enabled Michael to overcome obstacles in the early days of his career.

He was working in the restaurant division of a local company when management changed. With a promotion, he asked why he was not being compensated at the level of the person who previously held the position. He was told he needed to prove himself and would be evaluated in six months. He performed as expected but six months came and went without an increase in compensation. At the same time, his aunt from Las Vegas reached out to him about coming to work in Las Vegas. She had connections and could get him a job at Caesars Palace as a sous chef, she told him. So he resigned his position, packed his bags and moved to Las Vegas in 1975 even though the local company offered to raise his salary if he would stay.

Yono Purnomo and Sam Nahhas with Michael Ty

“It was time to move on to where I get compensated for what I’m worth,” Michael said. And he followed his convictions. “If they lied to me the first time, what’s going to prevent them from lying to me the second time.” He headed west.

Once in Las Vegas, the job his aunt promised she could secure for him did not materialize. Michael was unemployed and on his own in a new city.

He found a job on the lowest rung of the kitchen brigade ladder. Within two years, he landed a job as a sous chef at Caesars Palace. At age 28, he became the youngest non-European Executive Chef at a major resort on the Las Vegas strip.

Michael has watched Las Vegas grow by leaps and bounds since the 1970s and that growth includes fine dining. Known for its round-the-clock buffets, the feasts are just one part of the Vegas culinary scene, Michael said. For many years, Las Vegas has had the same top chefs and fine dining as the rest of the world, he added. When he worked at Caesars Palace, they would serve from 30,000 to 40,000 meals per day with a kitchen brigade of 550 employees.

However, the College of Hard Knocks would not let Michael graduate. As an employee, he was always subject to management changes and the whims of CEOs so Michael decided to put his destiny in his own hands.

“I would not be put in a position to worry about putting food on the table,” Michael said.

 

Culinary Entrepreneur

Michael’s Jamba store at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (Photo courtesy of Michael Ty)

In 1993, Michael established his own company – Hospitality Culinaire Inc. – and it did not take long for him to navigate this new world of culinary entrepreneurship. In 1994, he bid on several options at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. He was awarded one QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) – a TCBY store. In 2012, Michael opened his first Jamba Juice at a different gate and opened a second one in 2016 in another terminal. In 2019, he had the top two highest grossing locations of the 850 Jamba restaurants around the world. His original store closed in 2019 and opened as his third Jamba location just before the pandemic. Jamba serves smoothies and other food, including popular Acai Bowls.

Michael also has another business, called “MT Cuisine, LLC,” which sells chef apparel and high quality disposable chef toques. Apparently, his high school aptitude test was spot on!

The pandemic of course has deeply impacted Las Vegas. One of the top spots in the world for conventions and tourism, Michael’s revenue is down 60 percent from the year before COVID but he is sustaining the business. He is not losing money but not making a lot either, he said. In a May 25, 2021 email, Michael said that as of June 1, most hotels will be open to full capacity although two or three are still closed. And similar to what is being reported everywhere, Michael cannot open his stores completely because of a labor shortage.

Young Chefs Competition

Now semi-retired, Michael is supporting young culinarians through Chaîne’s Young Chefs program of regional and national competitions to prepare young chefs to succeed in their profession and compete on the international stage. Michael and Chef Reimund Pitz are the administrators for Chaîne’s upcoming Young Chefs Competition being held from June 3-6 in Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas.

The competition, which will be held at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, is part of Chaîne’s Culinary Weekend of educational seminars, a wine tasting, food pairings and an awards banquet.

The 2020 Young Chefs Competition had to be canceled because of the pandemic. Prior to COVID, Chaîne’s ten regions would hold their own regional competitions with a minimum of four chefs required. The ten regional winners would advance to the national competition and then one winner would be named to represent the United States at the international competition the following year. Chefs cannot be older than 27 years by October 1 of the year during which they are competing.

In 2021, four regions held live competitions and two held virtual ones with modified guidelines, Michael said. There will be an international competition in Paris in September. Normally, the United States winner has one year to prepare for the international competition. But this year at the June Young Chefs competition, two winners will be chosen. One will represent the United States in Paris in September and the other will represent the United States in 2022 at a location still to be determined.

For the June competition, competitors will prepare a three-course meal: an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. They have already received the mandatory protein that must be used. Once they arrive, they will receive a mystery basket of two additional proteins and some fruits and vegetables. As one of the administrators, Michael said they like to include fruits and vegetables the chefs will likely face in the international competition so this year, the mystery basket will include produce indigenous to France.

From left, David Hackett, Executive Chef Caribe Royal Hotel in Orlando, Chef Ty and Chef Pitz

A total of nine judges (three kitchen and six tasting) will score the chefs in all aspects of their culinary skills.

Michael encourages Chaîne members to support their young culinarians and local restaurants. “They work very hard to provide you with the very best food whether it’s as simple as a burger or as elegant as foie gras and caviar. It takes passion to create all these specialties for people,” Michael said.

Passion for the profession and business acumen propelled Michael’s career to success and recognition. In August 2021, he will be inducted to the “American Academy of Chefs” Hall of Fame. And in 2021, he received the Biotechnology and Natural Resources “Award of Excellence” from the University of Nevada Reno College of Agriculture. One of the reasons for the award was Michael and his team’s long term involvement with the “Chefs for Kids” Foundation. The foundation raises money each year to support the salaries of nutritionists who go into 14 “at risk” schools in Las Vegas to teach them about healthy eating and nutrition.He has an Honorary Doctorate from Johnson and Wales University, Norfolk Campus. In addition, he has several Chaîne Awards including a Founder Award for the Brillat Savarin and a Gold Star of Excellence.

Michael is dedicated to mentoring young chefs; paying it forward for the support his mother and high school guidance counselor provided him.

He has set up a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs grant/scholarship at SUNY Cobleskill to fund one student every year to participate in the Young Chefs Competition in the Northeast Region.

From left, Meagan, Melissa, Mary Ann, Michael, Michael David, Marc and Anna Mhae. (Photo Courtesy of Chef Ty)

“If it was not for the support of my immediate family … my wife, Mary Ann and my children, I would not be able to do this. They have unselfishly allowed me to spend their quality time for my passion which is to promote our profession. Thank you to my oldest son, Michael David, and my general manager, Jojo Cunanan, for allowing me to do this as well. Their support has made me successful in what we are doing today,” Michael said.

Guidance counselors should have corner offices with spectacular views to match their vision for their students’ futures!

Links

Chefs for Kids Foundation

Chaîne’s Young Chefs Competition

Johnson County Community College (Hospitality and Culinary Arts)

SUNY Cobleskill (Culinary Arts)

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1 comment

  1. He’s so incredibly generous. You did such a great time pointing our his kind and generous side, as well as his family in this article. Great job!

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