Rolling with the punches: Networking in the culinary world

Written by: Thomas G. Ciapi CEC®, CCE®, CCA®, AAC

With some 78 million baby boomers edging toward retirement and beyond, it is not surprising that after 35 years in the industry I felt I must concede to Corporate America. Although I was healthy, with body and mind intact, I felt lifeless–I lost my enthusiasm and no longer felt passionate about all that I had worked to achieve.

Does this sound familiar? This burnout happens more often than you might think.

Here’s what I did about it. 

After deciding to shift my focus to other culinary arenas, I had to reach inward and cling to my faith. I began to network with colleagues across the nation, asking for their help and support in my new job search. I was ACF certified, educated and had been trained by some of the most talented chefs in Texas, so I allowed myself, through my contacts, to be inspired and empowered by their success.

Networking is considered the most effective way to find a job–particularly in challenging economic times. According to many studies, the majority of all jobs are found through networking. Networking may uncover job opportunities that might not yet–or ever–be posted on job sites, creating opportunities that did not previously exist.

In the process of networking, here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Relationships are built over time – not in one interaction. Be sure to stay in touch.
  • Know what you want to learn from the contact. Do not look to others to tell you what you can research on your own.
  • Listen carefully and take good notes.
  • Ask for referrals and permission to use their name.
  • Be patient – meetings may be cancelled several times.


I knew that changing careers would be a process that takes time, so it was important for me to stay positive and productive. I began giving back to the community and mentoring others in the culinary field. Community service shows an employer that you are compassionate and hardworking, while mentoring helps those new in the industry set career goals and start taking the steps to realize those goals.  I used my culinary knowledge and skill to mentor young culinarians as they became associated with the American Culinary Federation and the ACF Certification program, as well as their local ACF chapters and other professional resources, advising young chefs that ACF certification opens doors and is the difference between being a chef and becoming a professional chef.

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Though my career path has changed, I continue to market myself and the culinary profession to those in the industry. It has provided me with a renewed enthusiasm to know that I am helping others by encouraging them to stay relevant, discussing menu options, cost analysis and giving advice when necessary.

Chefs have helped me along the way, not knowing what they had given to me, so I will do the same and encourage others to do the same as well.

Do you have a certification story or a mentoring experience to share? Let us know in the comments below or email and your story could be featured on the blog!

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Thomas Ciapi, CEC, CCE, CCA, AAC, was born in Queens, New York, and raised on Long Island as the son of Italian decedents, where his love for cooking was developed early in life.  Chef Ciapi first completed an apprenticeship program from the American Culinary Federation in 1984 from Houston, Texas, becoming a certified cook, and throughout the course of his career earned other certifications before becoming a certified culinary educator and certified executive chef.  His experience includes private clubs, resorts and hotels, teaching, and he is a published cookbook author. To learn more about Chef Ciapi and his journey, visit his website.