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John Wayne “Duke” Formica Interview

December 12, 2012 Le Cordon Bleu Chicago, Le Cordon Bleu 0 Comments

Success Stories

John Wayne “Duke” Formica

Graduate: 2007, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago (formerly Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago)

Degree: Associate of Applied Science in Le Cordon Blue Culinary Arts

Current Position: Chef at Homestead on the Roof in Chicago

Chef John Wayne “Duke” Formica pulls ingredients from and cooks in the same garden where his guests dine. Thanks to Chef Formica and Homestead on the Roof, Chicago has a true farm-to-table dining experience.

In only five years, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago graduate Chef John Wayne Formica has become a sought-after restaurant chef, private chef, instructor, consultant, and travel blogger.  When asked how he finds the time for all of his endeavors he said, “You find the time when you want to do something important.”

And finding the time he does. One of Chef Formica’s current ventures has him working as the chef at Homestead on the Roof in Chicago where he pulls ingredients from the rooftop garden and designs dishes based on what is in season.

“Be motivated. Be passionate. Be humble.  Be patient.”

“If you want to become a successful chef, you need drive and you need the willingness to work 20-hour days or three months without a day off or both,” explained Chef Formica. “That’s what I did.”

He knows that it’s no secret that chefs work long hours on their feet, but he believes aspiring chefs need to hear it more. This industry only wants the most dedicated, and when you look at Chef Formica’s resume you can see that he is, indeed, dedicated.

His career didn’t begin in the kitchen, although his personal life did. Chef Formica comes from a family of chefs and restaurateurs. He worked in the culinary field during his teen years, but as an adult he first joined the military where he worked in IT.

“I think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades.”

After leaving the military in 2006, Chef Formica re-evaluated his passion for cooking and that’s when he enrolled in culinary school.

“I had a lot of culinary-based knowledge before culinary school, so the experience really allowed me to refine what I already knew and develop my technique,” he said. “School helped me understand base-level things, and now it helps me as a teacher. In creating chef demonstrations and in developing university-level curriculum, I reflect on those times and think about how to make my own curriculum better.”

Chef Formica worked at Chef Biagio Longo’s restaurant in Sorrento, Italy. He returned to Chicago where he worked at the C-House, a variety of catering companies, and Chef Rodelio Aglibot’s (The Food Buddha) restaurant, Sunda.

Making Community Work a Priority

At every restaurant where he has worked Chef Formica has made mentorship a priority, which he continues to do at Homestead on the Roof.

“I definitely value mentoring,” he said. “We learn so much in the school environment, but there’s more to learn in real time. Being a chef, there’s rules but there aren’t rules. You have to evolve with the art.”

Chef Formica’s community support extends past mentoring. By purchasing additional ingredients from local farmers and farmer’s markets, Homestead is able to support the local economy. 

The Rewards and Challenges of a Farm-to-Table Restaurant

“The rewards are simple,” he said. “I have my own garden to pull from. My guests can sit in it. In each dish they can see something from the garden whether it’s an accent or main component, from a snap dragon garnish to a basil béchamel sauce.”

The challenges, on the other hand, get a little trickier. Chef Formica explained that he had planned to create a duck egg dish, but had to abandon the plan when he couldn’t get the large quantities of ingredients that he needed.  This sort of thing happens occasionally.

“My menu has to change with the seasons,” he said. “Even if I have a dish that people love, I will eventually need to take it off the menu or change components of the dish, like I have done a few times with one of my popular scallop dishes.”

Regardless of the hard work and the ups and downs of a farm-to-table concept, Chef Formica continues to devote his time to creating excellent fresh dishes for Chicago. He is also making plans for a new restaurant called E+O (Earth & Ocean) Food and Drink, which will be located in Mt. Prospect, IL.

Learn more about Chef Formica by following him on Twitter – @Cowboy_Chef – or by reading his blog – www.TravelingCowboyChef.com

 Chef John Wayne Formica

Career success will depend largely on the effort put into studies, job search efforts, experience and attitude. Le Cordon Bleu does not and cannot guarantee employment, and the experience of the alumni is not representative of all students.



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