Andrew Zaleski>Senior>English>Loyola University Maryland
An all-clad sauté pan and a Wusthof knife. That’s what Sophia Greenia received for her 16th birthday. No car, no big “Super Sweet 16” party. Just a pan and a knife.
For Greenia, cooking utensils made the ideal Sweet 16 gift: fast-forward a couple years, and the Syracuse, New York, native was enrolling at the Providence, Rhode Island, campus of Johnson and Wales culinary school, now armed with a full knife kit.
“It stays in my car,” says Greenia. “I bring it home with me. Basically, it goes everywhere I go—it’s like a second purse.”
Greenia started cooking at 13 when her mom went back to working part time. Knowing her daughter’s developing love for cooking—and that she came home a full two hours earlier than the rest of the family (which includes an older brother in addition to Greenia’s parents), Greenia’s mother offered Sophia the chance to start cooking dinner for the whole family.
“I started experimenting, [started] watching the Food Network,” says Greenia. “I loved it. I basically told my mom I’ll do all the cooking from now on, and I just took over the kitchen when I was 13.”
As her passion for all things food grew during her time in high school, Greenia knew she wanted to work in culinary arts.
At Johnson and Wales, Greenia first received an associate’s degree in culinary arts before pursuing a bachelor’s in the same field. There, the courses are divided among trimesters, which are, in turn, divided into five different cooking labs. Each of these labs runs in succession to each other, lasting for nine days a piece. From 7 a.m. until 1 p.m., students cook. Some days they sit through an hour- or two-hour-long lecture. But the bulk of their time is spent learning to cook: how to break down a chicken; how to make certain sauces and stocks; how to cook traditional European dishes.
“You learn basic recipes, and you figure out what flavors go well together,” says Greenia. “You really do train your tongue to pick out sweet, sour, savory, bitter flavors . . . it’s just something you develop. When I was a freshman, I tried basic combinations. And now I’ve just developed into thinking of crazy things that would go good together. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t—it’s all about experimenting and experience.”
And that kitchen experimentation and experience has provided advantageous to Greenia outside of her cooking classes; it’s a skill that has allowed to her to compete in and win a number of cooking competitions, including the 2008 Heinz Ketchup Recipe Challenge for her pomegranate blue-cheese-spiked barbecue sauce.
“I was jumping around my apartment,” says Greenia, who found out the results in June 2008. “I won 1,500 dollars cash. And I was going to be in a Heinz ketchup ad in Plate magazine. I was just so excited.”
But being an aspiring chef is more than just days filled with cooking and winning money in recipe contests (money that Greenia used to pay her rent). Key components of both the associate’s and bachelor’s degrees at Johnson and Wales are the completion of several co-op or internship experiences.
The summer after her freshman year, Greenia found herself in Walt Disney World, working as a line cook at the Kona Café.
“It was my first time ever working in a real kitchen. I was terrified,” says Greenia. “I was working 70 hours a week. And you have to create some recipes and have the chef taste it and critique it. It was pretty intense.”
But after about two weeks, Greenia was in love with the job.
“They [Kona Café] taught me so much. They really knew how to train you as a new employee, especially with someone who didn’t have any experience.”
It was training Greenia was thankful for receiving. Working 12-hour shifts, serving roughly 500 people every night, meant that Greenia had to become an expert at cooking with speed and precision, even when events in the kitchen don’t always pan out for the best.
“Sometimes your oven breaks in the middle of service. And then two people have to share one oven. And sometimes the dishwasher goes down, and if you’re not cooking, you’re back washing dishes. Crazy stuff happens all the time that the dining room just doesn’t know about,” says Greenia.
Greenia returned to Orlando during the summer of 2008 to complete another internship at Walt Disney World’s Narcoossee’s Restaurant, which was also the year she received the Emeril Lagasse Endowed Scholarship (Emeril was a 1978 graduate of Johnson and Wales). In late summer 2009, Greenia traveled to Singapore and Thailand for a month to study Asian cuisine. And since April 2009, Greenia has worked as a line cook at The Waterman Grille in Providence.
Now a Johnson and Wales graduate, Greenia is optimistic for where her cooking career might take her. Right now, she’s content being a line cook. But in five years, she envisions herself in some sort of management position, either in a restaurant or in a resort.
“[Cooking] has taught me a lot of responsibility,” says Greenia. “I mean, I had to wake up at 5:30 every day and go to class [for] six hours straight.
“But I love what I do. I laugh all the time. I get to eat great food. I don’t know who else gets to go and cook and eat and taste delicious treats all the time, but that’s definitely an awesome perk to it. I’m just going to continue working in restaurants and see what happens.”