Joel Dondis of Joel, a full service catering and event-planning company located in New Orleans, Louisiana, took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about catering, how he got started in the industry and what would-be caterers can do to get into the business.
For Dondis, the cooking-bug struck early. By the age of twelve, he had secured his first apprenticeship with a noted chef and restaurateur from the Basque region of Spain. Dondis went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York and then traveled to Europe to gain even more hands-on experience. He worked at the Schloss Hotel and Restaurant Gargantua, in Frankfurt, Germany. When Dondis returned to the United States, he worked for the Brennan family in their restaurant "Mr. B's" and then at the world-renowned Emeril's Restaurant where he earned the title of Sous Chef. The Sous Chef is second-in-command in a restaurant or kitchen, ranking immediately below the Head Chef.
As the president and chef-proprietor of a thriving catering and event planning company, Dondis wears many hats. He has traveled to the Bahamas, Florida, Washington DC, and New York City to cater some noted high-profile events. Joel even trained Princess Margaret's chef at her home on the island of Mystique in the Lower Grenadines. An average day might find him working on company finances, marketing and business development, mentoring new staff, talking with clients or creating new recipes.
If you're creative, love cooking, enjoy working with people and have a strong entrepreneurial drive - catering could be a good profession for you. So, what should you do if this sounds like a viable career option? Several caterers, Dondis included, believe that a combination of formal training and practical experience work well. Dondis particularly stresses the importance of business classes. Running a catering company is very much like running a restaurant or any other kind of business. A strong background in business administration can only enhance your ability to handle the myriad of responsibilities that come your way. Caterers debate who offers the best apprenticeship or internship opportunities. For some, Europe is where you want to be. For others, the U.S. is just fine. No matter where you choose, find a setting where you can be comfortable so that you'll be open to gaining valuable practical experience.
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