Andrew Shaffer was 18 years old when Michelin-starred chef Dante Boccuzzi, owner of Dante in Tremont, invited him to an event in California. There, acclaimed chef Charlie Palmer — also a Michelin-starred chef — was hosting the 14th annual Pigs & Pinot fundraiser, where master sommeliers and international celebrity chefs showcased some of the world’s greatest pinot noirs with pork pairings.
“It was an awesome opportunity,” says Shaffer, who had worked with Boccuzzi at Dante. “It was exciting to work with chefs from all over the country.”
Before the first day of the event, Shaffer helped with prep work, roasting pork shoulders to make fried tostones, Puerto Rican style.
“It was unique because most people were expecting traditional classy French or Italian food, and we hit them with traditional Puerto Rican food,” says Shaffer, of Amherst. “Everybody loved it.”
The next day he helped with a 100-person, seven-course dinner.
“It was a lot of fun to work with different chefs, and I knew some of the restaurants they were from, so it was exciting to see what they had to bring,” he says.
Credit for cooking
Shaffer grew up surrounded by food influences, but he didn’t discover his own culinary passion until his sophomore year of high school.
As a home-schooled student, Shaffer made his own lunch.
“I got experimental and threw stuff together,” he says. “Then I started to cook for my family, and everyone liked it.”
From there, he was hooked.
“I knew that was what I was going to do with my life,” he says. “I cooked every time I got a chance and worked in every restaurant I could.”
Working nearly full time and balancing high school with college classes through Lorain County Community College’s College Credit Plus program was difficult, but worth the effort.
“I figured the more I could get done, the better,” he says. “I signed up for everything I could.”
By the time he graduated high school, Shaffer had earned 30 college credits, leaving him two semesters shy of a degree. And because he had work experience, he earned credits through LCCC’s Prior Learning Assessment program, which awards credits for life experience.
“Friends who went to other schools didn’t get credit for their restaurant experience and had to retake classes,” he says. “That credit at LCCC saved time and money by showing that I had a good foundation.”
That foundation led to an offer to work at a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City, but a meeting with Chef Adam Schmith, director of the Culinary Arts Institute at LCCC, changed his mind.
“He wrote out how it would work out, and I knew I needed to earn my degree,” he says.
Shaffer turned down the job offer to finish the program.
“It pushed me farther than I would have pushed myself,” he says.
A push for improvement
In LCCC’s culinary program, Shaffer took every opportunity to improve, says Chef Brad Ball,
a culinary instructor at LCCC.
“It’s not often a student comes not only with his level of knowledge and experience, but also with an attitude that’s exciting and fun to work with,” Ball says. “He was a big asset in every classroom I had him in.”
Ball says LCCC’s culinary program helps students develop the right mindset to work in the food service industry, because it’s not just about being a good cook.
“You need to have the right work ethic,” he says. “You need to have a thick skin and know when to put your head down. It’s about working hard under stress.”
For the final assignment of the restaurant capstone class, in which students operate LCCC’s Sage & Seed restaurant, he had a prominent role.
“He was responsible for prep lists and organization, and a large part of the execution,” Ball says.
Shaffer spent more than 12 hours in the kitchen the day of the event preparing to serve more than 100 people in two hours.
“Making sure everybody’s on the same page is the hardest part, because if everybody isn’t, we’ll all go down,” he says.
Schmith says Shaffer made the most of his year at the college.
“He was like an endlessly absorbent sponge,” says Schmith. “He developed a greater amount of self-confidence that shifted his mindset to achieve higher career goals after college.”
A bright future
Shaffer graduated in May 2019 with an associate of applied science degree — and a job — just weeks after turning 19. A few months earlier, he’d applied at Vitamix Corp. for a position involving recipe development and product testing.
“Everything on the job listing seemed obtainable, but I honestly didn’t expect to hear back because they’re a really big company and I was still in school,” says Shaffer. “It was a long shot, but I thought I’d try.”
Vitamix contacted Shaffer the next day and ultimately offered him a job as a product management chef assistant.
“Vitamix presents him with some cool opportunities,” Ball says. “His education provides him with a platform to set himself apart, and his degree opens up doors for
Shaffer says his LCCC degree was critical to his success.
“There’s definitely a difference in the jobs you can get if you have a college education,” says Shaffer. “The foundation of knowledge that you get from being in college makes a huge difference in where you end up.”
Going forward, Shaffer plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts or food science.
“I’d encourage people getting into this industry to go to LCCC to get a grasp of the field,” Shaffer says. “Realize that nothing is impossible. If you’re willing to work hard enough for something, you can obtain it.”