Cafe Society

Jorge de la Torre, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University, dishes on Denver's best hummus, his students and surly service

Jorge de la Torre Johnson & Wales University

This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Jorge de la Torre, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University. Part two of that interview will run in this space tomorrow.

"I'm a little worried about this interview," confesses Jorge de la Torre. "We call it the Chef and Tell curse on campus because the last two guys you interviewed who taught here -- Eric Stein and Mark DeNittis -- are no longer around."

But de la Torre, the dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University, swears on his chef's coat that he has no intention of leaving. "I absolutely love the students. The majority of them come in really interested and asking lots of questions, and that reinvigorates me, keeps me on my toes and makes me rethink the basics of cooking," says the 42-year-old chef, who first stepped foot in a professional kitchen when he was eighteen and living in Albuquerque.

"I was in architect school, but in my heart I knew I wanted to be a chef, so I told my parents that I wanted to go to culinary school, and my dad, who hated the idea, found the nastiest chef he could in Albuquerque and told him to kick my ass," recalls de la Torre. But the chef who whipped his butt convinced the aspiring cook that such culinary rigor was exactly what he was looking for. "I loved everything about working in a restaurant -- the adrenaline, the cooking, the customers, everything -- so I was like, thanks, Dad, that was great."

Still, his father pushed him to collect his college degree, which he did -- in business, not architecture -- and the day following his graduation, de la Torre immediately applied to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. With a duo of degrees in hand, he did time in kitchens in San Francisco, Hawaii and Vail until 2001, when he sold the restaurant he owned in Vail. "I knew I still wanted to be involved with cooking, but I took some time to figure out what the hell I wanted to do and what other opportunities existed outside of restaurants," he remembers.

And that's when de la Torre became interested in education. "My now-wife was studying law at Rutgers," he says, "and I found a job opening as an instructor at a culinary school in Pennsylvania, and that's when I fell in love with teaching."

After his wife graduated, they moved back west, to Denver, where de la Torre was hired as an instructor at Johnson & Wales; a week later, he was the assistant director; three years later, in 2004, he became the university's dean of culinary education.

In the following interview, de la Torre dishes on his students, extols the virtues of a locally made hummus, makes a plea to the front-of-the-house staffs of Denver restaurants and admits that he's obsessed with Pop-Tarts.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson

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