Now studying and working as an Undergraduate Peer Mentor and Food Lab Teaching Assistant at New York University he is focused on teaching students how to address food insecurity by learning to prepare low-cost, nutritious meals. Abe is interested in the politics of food, international food distribution and food waste reduction.
Most recently he has been competing on the television series MasterChef USA: Legends, hosted by Gordon Ramsay. We caught up with him to find out what he’s been up to since graduating, and what it’s like to compete in a major cooking competition.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
'I grew up in a multi-cultural famiy and lived in the US, Romania, Mexico, Serbia, Portugal, and England. The ability of food to connect strangers and as a way to learn about a culture is part of who I am. I have experienced the power of communicating through food as one of the great foundations of what makes us human. It is also amazing to see the history and connectedness of cuisines in the formation of our cultural identities.'
Why did you decide to attend Le Cordon Bleu London?
'After high school, I was looking for non-traditional educational options. The thought of sitting in a classroom for another four years was unappealing and I wanted to explore my passion for food in a more formalized way. At the time, I was living in England, and I was drawn to Le Cordon Bleu’s outstanding reputation and classical training, so I applied.
Being able to cook well is a life skill. It’s like knowing how to ride a bike or swim. I wish more people had the opportunity to learn how to cook in a more professional setting, whether they become home cooks or make a career of it. If one has basic knife skills and an understanding of the foundations, the creative options are infinite.'
When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
'I’ve always cooked and after studying at Le Cordon Bleu I was keen to practice my skills. While I am proud of my alma mater and am passionate about creative meals, as I think about what I’m going to do after graduation from New York University, I am interested in teaching others about cooking. I really enjoy being a Teaching Assistant in the NYU Food Lab and am committed to helping students with food insecurity in building their comfort level and skills in preparing simple, healthful meals.'
How did studying the Grand Diplôme® help you to achieve this role?
'The Grand Diplôme® opened doors to many fine dining kitchens. Employees are impressed with the skills graduates of the Grand Diplôme® have and it is a competitive advantage.'
How helpful was the Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management to your career?
'Because I was so young, 19, at the time, it really helped introduce me to the world of high end dining and beverages. This is a terrific life skill.'
Is there anything that surprised you when you entered the professional world?
'I wasn’t expecting so many issues with employee morale, lack of fair wages, challenging management, and the constant pressure. There are many fantastic owners and companies in the professional world, but there are also many that aren’t. It’s really important for longevity in the industry to work for a business or restaurant where employees are valued and where professional ethics exist. It also makes for a successful, creative enterprise and for happy, motivated employees.'
What has been the best moment in your career so far?
'I was proud to earn my Grand Diplôme®. Being offered a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant before the pandemic was exciting. This is on hold though until I complete my undergradate degree.'
What made you decide to apply for MasterChef USA?
'A family member encouraged me to apply. I wasn’t familiar with the program and they thought it would be fun to audition.'
Was the competition experience as you expected?
'It is a very popular, reality cooking competition television program. I didn’t realize what a following the program had and didn’t expect the household recognition. Ive been blown away by the outpouring of support and excitement friends, family, and viewers have given me.'
What has been the best thing about competing on MasterChef USA?
'The other chef competitors. They are amazing and I’ve become very close with many of them. They’ll be friends for life. Working with Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Bastianich, and the culinary legends was an incredible experience. They are all amazing people and incredibly supportive. It was a surprise.'
Would you recommend taking part in professional competition to others?
'Competitions are great opportunities to learn more and test your skills. You can’t improve or have new experiences if you don’t try. Yes, do it.'
What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
'Believe your gut, don’t be swayed by others. Take the risks, don’t be afraid to fail, and enjoy the process. Most importantly don’t take yourself too seriously, and always take the opportunity to do something new.'
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in a few words?
'Quality, tradition, and innovation.'
What’s your fondest or funniest memory from Le Cordon Bleu?
'The instructors and my fellow students, so many fun memories. I remember our class on cheesecake vividly. Chef Colin said he wasn’t going to test the cakes so we could be able to take them home and enjoy them. However, one group made a gorgeous looking cake, and the chef couldn’t help but try it. Next thing, we see that chef has a face of horror after taking a bite. They had switched the sugar with salt! Yikes! Safe to say it was moment we will never forget in the kitchen.'
What's the best piece of advice you’ve received?
'You do you.'
Who is your biggest inspiration?
'Aaron Webster and Remi Williams, owners of Smoke and Salt. Creative, cool, and ethical chefs and human beings. They pride themselves in small batch, perfect meals that help introduce new foods to their patrons. Love them and their business model.'
Find out more about the Grand Diplôme® and the Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management and our professional cookery courses and other culinary programmes to see how you can follow in Chef Abe's footsteps.