Meet Your Chef Instructor: Chef Tom Beckman
The newest addition to Escoffier Online’s pastry arts certificate program, Chef Tom Beckman brings with him decades of experience in the pastry arts. Not only has he worked in some of Chicago’s most prestigious hotel restaurants, he’s also been a private chef, hosting baking classes and teaching in the culinary arts for nearly 20 years. His new venture as an instructor for the online program has him excited to teach people all over the world the subject that matters to him most—baking & pastry.
Chef Tom took some time to talk with us a bit about his background, his favorite restaurant in Chicago, why he wanted to become a chef and what advice he has for aspiring culinarians.
Escoffier Online: What is your background in the pastry arts?
Chef Tom Beckman: I started as a flight attendant with Midway Airlines. I don’t know if that’s food service but a little bit. We used to cook on the plane for ourselves unbeknownst to the passengers. But it wasn’t until I got to go to cooking school in 1991 that I really entered the culinary arts. After cooking school, I worked in hotels up and down Michigan Avenue; the Mayfair-Regent and the Ritz-Carlton notably. I was a pastry chef at a Lincoln Park Italian restaurant and a private chef at the same time. I began teaching in 1997 at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and stayed there for 18 years.
EO: What has been your favorite job so far?
TB: Teaching by far is the most rewarding. I truly liked being a private chef though quite a bit. You set your own hours and you run the show. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.
EO: Why did you want to get into the pastry field?
TB: I have loved food since my mom taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies as a child. I love seeing the smiles when someone bites into one of my dishes. Also, teaching food is especially rewarding when you see people realize their dreams of food.
EO: What do you love most about being an educator with an online culinary school?
TB: I love working with the students so closely. There is no other program like this that you get so much interaction between teacher and student. It’s fast paced and challenging.
EO: What is the one ingredient you always have to have in your kitchen?
TB: Just one?! I would have to say salt. Without that, food tastes bland. But butter would be a close second.
EO: What do you think online culinary education can offer students around the world?
TB: Students from other countries can benefit from culinary education by seeing how food is prepared in North America. They also have the opportunity to interact with other students from around the world. It’s one big discussion.
EO: What was your biggest culinary/pastry dish triumph?
TB: I think that working with bread is my greatest asset. I have researched and worked with bread for over 20 years now. People think it’s just throw it in the bowl and mix. There is so much art to making great bread. Fermenting sour cultures are not that pretty but they can make some of the best bread ever.
EO: What is your favorite restaurant in the world and why?
TB: I love a restaurant called BOKA. It’s at Halsted and Willow in Chicago. It’s fine dining and quite contemporary. But it’s not stuffy. They were doing pork belly 10 years ago. The service is what makes it my favorite though. The servers will do anything for you that will make your dinner all that much better. I usually go for my birthday.
EO: What are your top 3 favorite ingredients to cook with right now?
TB: Lentils, quinoa and whole wheat flour.
EO: We usually all have one! Is there a food you hate?
TB: I’m an omnivore. I can’t think of anything I don’t eat.
EO: Any words of advice for people thinking about getting into the culinary/pastry arts?
TB: Listen to everyone talk about food. This means you are listening to the 2nd grader who is commenting on your cake all the way to the five diamond winning executive chef. They all have something to offer you. Be open to every idea that is presented to you. Lastly, eat everything. I can’t think of a better way to learn to cook everything than to eat everything. Don’t be afraid.