Up Close with the Late Certified Master Chef and former ACF National President John Kinsella

ACF President John Kinsella, CMC, CCE, AAC, HOF, sadly passed away in June 2023. He was a longtime, active member of ACF; he served as ACF National President from 2005-2009 as well as ACF National secretary and chair of the Chef of the Year Committee. He also served as ACF Culinary Team USA manager in the late 90s and early 2000s following years of competing in various international competitions, including the Culinary Olympics and Culinary World Cup. A retired senior supervising chef at Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Chef Kinsella most recently served as president of Smart Chefs LLC, a chef consultancy, for the past 15 years.

John Kinsella, CMC,#1FEA10BHere’s a conversation he once had with us about his love of the culinary industry, watching his son follow in his footsteps and his dedication to ACF.

Q: Who influenced your decision to become a culinarian and at what age did you first show an interest in the profession?

A: I never knew anything else. I started when I was about 13 and I know nothing else. I didn’t have much of a choice, I didn’t like school, academia, so I went into trade school after high school. I got in as an apprentice in Ireland, then to London and graduated in England.

Q: When did your son first show an interest in the culinary field and do you think you had an influence on him entering the field?

A: Basically when I would cook in the house. He likes to make extra money like his dad. I was a bit leery about him at first going into the industry. So he went, first of all, to work with a pretty famous chef in Cincinnati named Jimmy Gibson, where he was trained really well. Son said he needed to go work with some other chefs before he made his mind up, so he went to work in Florida, worked at Silver Cricket, then to Seattle, then he decided to come back to finish his school. He’s a real remarkable kid. He said, “Dad, I’ll take a low wage just as long as I can get into the Maisonette.” He worked from line chef to butcher to Escoffier, got great training and worked his way up. He took a real interest at about 10 [years old]. He likes to socialize and to work hard; he likes that pace.

Q: Do you and your son ever cook/work together, share ideas, etc.? Do you ever get any disagreements?

A: We worked together in Cincinnati. I trained his butchery skills, which were pretty weak at one time. We cooked in the restaurants, in the school and at fundraisers. In fact, I worked with him on being a competitor, Category K Student Member of the Year, in our chapter. It’s great to see his growth.

Q: Why did you dissuade him at first from entering the profession?

A: Because of the toughness, it’s a very tough industry and it takes a lot of dedication. Everyone seems to think that if you learn to cook, you’re a chef, but no, you’re not. You learn to cook and then you go to learn from other chefs. If you really want to learn this industry, you should always remember one thing and I tell people this: you just don’t work with one chef, you work with four or five of the best chefs and be willing to take low pay when you’re doing that because remember, they are educating you. Keep an open mind, you may not always agree, but always learn to compare and there is always an opportunity to learn the same skills differently from different chefs, and a lot of people don’t do that.

Q: What culinary accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? What accomplishment(s) of your son are you most proud of?

A: 1) Preparing the banquet for the Shar of Iran and the Queen of England; 2) Cooking for John Kennedy in Dublin; and 3) Professionally, for me, becoming a CMC. The other thing that’s not measurable is the terrific number of friends and knowledge I got through sharing ideas with people all over the world and the common bond I have among the other cooks and chefs.

Q: When did you first learn of the ACF?

A: Well, I came to Cincinnati and I was recruited. They had just started the chapter in Cincinnati in ‘75 and the first thing I got was that they came up to me and asked me to join the ACF. And I said what’s this, he was told it was similar to the guild in England but a little different. And I said ok, so I joined it and I never left it since.

Q: What impact has ACF had on you?

A: It’s had everything on me. It’s carried me to the top of my profession here in the U.S. It’s a great organization, I love it to death. It’s been there for me, and it’s taught me and it’s nurtured me, just a fabulous organization.

More about Chef Kinsella:

Chef Kinsella was a graduate apprentice from the Grosvenor House, London, where he worked under French master chef Rene Le Bec, one of Auguste Escoffier’s apprentice. Earlier in his career, he also worked at several prestigious properties, including the Gourmet Room, Madam Prunier of London, the Grosvenor House London, the Royal Hibernian Hotel Dublin and Le Palmier of Brussels.

During his career, Chef Kinsella won numerous accolades and awards, from receiving Her Majesty’s Armed Forces Combined Services Medal for Services to the Culinary Profession and being inducted in the Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of Chicago Disciples of Escoffier to managing various culinary teams. He also earned an honorary doctorate in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University and a doctorate in foodservice from the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), for his work in equipment and kitchen design development strategies.

Chef Kinsella’s career of more than 55 years was dedicated to elevating the fields of culinary arts and education, along with his relentless drive to develop young talent. As an active Fellow and past officer of the AAC who was honored for outstanding leadership in the culinary industry at an AAC event in 2008, Chef Kinsella was a staunch supporter of the AAC culinary scholarship program in helping future culinarians obtain the education they need and desire to excel in the culinary industry.