Chef Darin Sehnert
Traveling Cooking Teacher
Freelance Food Writer
700 Kitchen Cooking School
Which Came First?
My interest in food and cooking has always been a natural one. Mom and my grandmas were all great cooks, none of the food was fancy…just really good! I don’t know whether it was a natural interest in food that drew me into the kitchen, or whether it was to be near mom, but in any case the important thing is that because of that early curiosity I now have a career I love!
A fascination with the Osterizer blender cookbook at the age of 9 started what has become a lifelong love of baking…I schemed all day to make a coconut cream pie as a surprise for mom when she got home from a church function. Topped with what else…. REAL CoolWhip!!! Lol… Who knew you could make a pie in a blender???…Yes, you really can!
Luckily that love of food was cemented early on and it was only natural to follow it as a career so I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. As a result of checking out the broad-base of hospitality options that were out there I knew that food truly was my passion, so I continued on at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI for my culinary degree.
Venturing on to London I had the terrific opportunity to work in an upscale Mediterranean restaurant in the West End theater district during my culinary internship. I had been to London before, but visiting and living in a place are two totally different things. I loved the ability to just get out and wander…especially the grocery stores! If you don’t make a point of visiting grocery stores on your travels (even here in the U.S.) you should…there are amazing things to be discovered! Sainsbury’s may be a general mega grocery store to the typical Brit, but to me it was a world of food wonders! Who knew there was such a thing as Jelly Sugar?? (sugar with pectin for making jams and jellies.)
A Happy Accident
Upon my return to the states I wanted to hold out on a job offer that had been extended prior to my departure so I could see what else might be available. That’s when one of the best things to happen to me professionally occurred…A good friend told me that our alma mater (Cal Poly) was looking for a dinner chef instructor for the student operated restaurant.
“Who, me??” I replied. “Nah, I’m 23 and we just graduated a year ago ourselves..”
What the heck I thought…you probably won’t get it anyway so it will at least be good experience to go through the interview, I did and the next thing I knew I had a job offer!
Lesson learned: If you want to do it…go for it! (Note to self: Don’t forget that lesson).
My career has continued to take many unexpected but always exciting twists and turns from working with Le Cordon Bleu – Paris doing summer personal enrichment cooking classes in Southern California, to traveling Italy with Gisella Isidori, an Italian food & travel advisor who shared her knowledge of cooking as we traveled the by-ways of Italy visiting cheese, olive oil, and pasta producers one summer.
A Mickey Mouse Operation
Yet another summer I was on vacation in Orlando and was fascinated with the newly opened “Disney Institute”. Summer camp for adults I liked to call it…with hands-on classes from cooking to gardening, animation, radio, television, and outdoor sports it was truly a special place. Luckily for me I eventually learned of an opening and on the very day I was planning to call and accept a job in Corpus Christi, TX ….
Ring… “Who the heck is that?” I wondered as I groggily awakened at 6:15am one day during my summer break from teaching. Lo and behold it was Mickey’s people calling my people (me to be precise) to invite me for an audition! Ok, I thought…what should I do, what would impress Mickey…cheeseball? Nah, too…well, cheesy! Drawing on that time in London and the traditional pasttime of English tea I had approximately 36 hours to put together my thematic class teaching 2-3 techniques with the recipes broken into quantities for 1-2 and a complete list of equipment. No problem….I’ll sleep when I’m dead!
Off I went to Orlando to “audition” for Mickey. That was the beginning of 6 1/2 years with Walt Disney World, originally as chef instructor for the incredible and beloved Disney Institute and then as sous chef and restaurant manager. During that time I worked in 3 different resorts and ending at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa where I was a sous chef in the main kitchen which serviced 6 of the 9 hotel food & beverage outlets, had a staff of 65 cooks, and on average served about 3000 guests on a busy day! In 2004 I weathered 3 hurricanes in a row at the Grand Floridian…if you’re going to ride out a hurricane I highly recommend doing it at Walt Disney World!
Cherished memories and great friends came from “the Disney years”. I had the incredible opportunity to do TVsegments for HGTV, the Food Network, be guest chef aboard the Disney Cruise line, guest chef of the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, and so many other opportunities.
The Hostess City
Shortly before Christmas 2004 (just about the time I was finally ready to try buying perishable foods again…hurricane season was over!) I learned of a boutique hotel (Mansion on Forsyth Park) scheduled to open in Savannah with a cooking school attached.
“Hmm…professional oriented or personal enrichment programs?” I enquired of my friend. She wasn’t sure so I decided to check it out on the web…lo and behold not only did it appear to be personal enrichment oriented…..well, heck…they were looking for a director! Well, time and the holidays got away from me and before I knew it we were into January.
“You probably screwed up and missed out on a great opportunity” I told myself in a disgusted tone sure to make anyone wince in personal shame. Wait…no, it’s still there! I sent the resume and before I knew it the ball got to rolling so quickly I was soon saying goodbye to friends, colleagues, and hanging up my chef’s hat with Mickey ears. Opening 700 Kitchen Cooking School from the ground up and observing the changes we’ve been through has been an incredible journey. The past six years have been a whirlwind that has at times seemed like a dozen years, and at other times like six months. The best part however is the opportunity to continue to explore, grow, and share my love of food and cooking with you my friends and readers!