Culinary arts student Philip Nevitt plans to graduate this fall, capping a whirlwind world tour that’s taken him to the some of the northernmost (Prudhoe Bay) and southernmost (yes, we’re talking Antarctica) destinations on the planet.
Though his adventures have delayed graduation, don’t think he’s slacking off. In fact, his travels have pushed him closer to his desired career in culinary arts. While gaining experience in kitchens across the planet, Philip has still continued taking UAA classes online. In fact, he’s logged into classes from an impressive four continents (if you can beat that record, please let us know).
This month, Philip checked in from the south of France — where he’s completing his UAA internship with a Michelin-star chef — to share tales from the road and advice for students back home.
Hustle and dough
“The UAA culinary program was, of course, what laid the foundation for this little working adventure,” Philip said, starting the story of his past several semesters.
He got his start in adventurous eating as a caterer in Anchorage with Wheel Good Foods, owned by UAA culinary arts graduate Kathy Robinson. “We did everything from feed hungry mobs at rock concerts to provide craft services to film shoots here in Alaska,” he said. “Kathy was very helpful during my clumsy beginning.”
He has kind words for every chef who’s helped him since, too. And that path has proven pretty interesting. After wrapping up his practical training courses on campus, Philip decided to chase down his travel goals and finish his degree online.
Prudhoe Bay was the first destination of his culinary road trip. During a season along the ice road, Philip worked in a remote kitchen under Chef Baron Garret of Arctic Catering, serving up meals for industry workers all winter along. The experience, he said, helped him gain speed and ease in the kitchen. “Baron really helped solidify my foundations in feeding a small army,” he added.
But all ice roads must melt. When Philip’s station shuttered for the season, he went to Kantishna Roadhouse, 90 miles down the only road in Denali National Park. The summer, he said, was “a big career booster.” He gained experience in luxury travel, worked under a “great mentor” in lodge manager Marie Morrow and, as an extra bonus, he joked, “for the first time in my Alaska career, I acquired a love of nature.”
Denali and the North Slope may seem wild and isolated, but neither can compare to cooking in Antarctica. Philip believes his Alaska experience helped him net a competitive culinary position at McMurdo Station — the United States’ primary Antarctic research station, as well as the largest community on the continent.
At McMurdo, Philip joined a five-chef team that fed 1,000 people a night. The setting was similar to a college dining hall — chefs prepared buffet lines early, then manned action stations at meal time. But instead of college freshmen requesting made-to-order burgers or pizzas, it was top-level scientists. When asked for highlights from his time on the edge of the world, he mentions close encounters with penguins, meeting Anthony Bourdain and “breading cheese balls for John Kerry.”
And now he’s continuing his journey in the south of France, on an internship that includes room, board and French lessons. The culinary internship fills his last requirement at UAA but, true to form, he decided to delay graduation and extend his work experience in France instead. And who can blame him? This semester, he’s working at a luxury spa under Michelin-rated chef Xavier Mathieu. “There are not too many opportunities to work with a Michelin Star Chef in the States,” he noted.
Philip planned his travels independently, but he credits UAA’s flexibility for making it happen. And thanks to these career experiences, he’s seen the benefits of his education while still a student.
Some culinary programs churn out graduates like a factory, he says, but not UAA. “I have heard, time and time and time again, that I was taught right by Chefs Vern, Tim and Naomi,” he said, naming UAA’s culinary faculty.
If you want to follow Philip’s footsteps, he says success is as simple as hard work and the ability to shout “Chef, oui, Chef” on a regular basis.
“The advice I would give any culinary student is to pay as much attention to everything you learn, from cost control to breaking down a rabbit. You will need it,” he noted.
“But most of all, use the instructors’ professionalism as your model — not what you see on cooking show culture. If you come to a kitchen with maturity and an eagerness to learn, most chefs will be happy to guide you the rest of the way.”
Philip will graduate this fall with a degree in culinary arts, and one of the most interesting résumés in the industry. We’ll see what happens next.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement