Christopher Koetke has fallen behind on learning Japanese flower arranging.
Which might seem weird — considering he’s an award-winning chef and was recently awarded 2011 Outstanding Alumni Award from Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business.
But Koetke, an Oak Park resident and the executive director of Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, said he’s never finished learning, and that includes non-culinary trades as well.
“You have to be learning all the time,” he said. “That’s the way you stay relevant.”
Koetke put this practice into play when he pursued his MBA for nearly five years at Dominican while he was an associate dean at Kendall College, completing the program in 2007.
“It was an incredibly slow path to getting my MBA,” he said, “but education is one of those things that you’re never too old for.”
Education plays a big part in Koetke’s life as he teaches about 800 culinary students a school year. One of the aspects he’s teaching those students is sustainability and ways to be “green” in the kitchen.
Koetke, who is also the vice president of Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts, said about 70 percent a restaurant’s garbage can be composted, so that’s where he started.
Next, he had lightbulbs changed at Kendall's kitchen facilities, began to use local produce 80 percent of the time at Kendall and planted an urban farm and outside garden, which produces 2,500 pounds of produce a year.
Then, the newest kitchen at Kendall has some of the most energy-efficient equipment and more effective ventilation, he said.
Thanks to these sustainability initiatives, Kendall was given the Green Award from Food Service Consultants International, and, in 2008, became the only culinary school to receive Certified Green Restaurant status from the Green Restaurant Association for its dining room and cafeteria.
In addition, the school was awarded the 2008 Academy of the Culinary Arts Cordon d’Or Gold Ribbon Cooking School of the Year under Koetke’s leadership.
Besides teaching at Kendall, Koetke travels around the world as a culinary teacher, volunteers for charity, hosts an Emmy-nominated cooking show, Let’s Dish, and writes textbooks, including The Culinary Professional, an introductory culinary arts book he co-authored.
A particularly meaningful award
The award from Dominican joins a list of personal awards including, Cooking Teacher of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2009 and the Foodservice Educators Network International Award for Excellence in Culinary Education in 2010.
However, Koetke said, the award at Dominican means a lot.
“Anytime your alma mater bestows an award like that on you, it’s nothing more than humbling,” he said, “because they’re so many great people there. I was really surprised and tickled to be their choice.”
And after Koetke catches up with the flower arranging, he doesn’t expect to sit still for long.
Then I want to “learn to play the harmonica, and the Thai xylophone.”
No doubt he will.