by Lou Mancinelli
Although he is the son of professors, Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D, 37, author, professor and founding director of the new Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management (CHSM), never planned as a young person to embark on a career in academia.
Raised near Scranton in the northeastern-most corner of Pennsylvania by parents who both had Ph.Ds in psychology, Deutsch learned at an early age that cooking, and not the classroom or therapy couch, was his calling.
Now, as director of the CHSM, Deutsch, a giant of a man who is almost 6-foot-6, has a vision to take Drexel’s culinary arts program to the next level. “I feel as an alumnus that the program hasn’t reached its potential,” said Deutsch during a recent interview.
(The Local met Deutsch last month at a beer tasting in Chestnut Grill. He was there to support Mt. Airy resident Lynn Hoffman, who helped found Drexel’s culinary arts program in 1994. Hoffman, a beer scholar and author of “Short Course in Beer,” was running the sold-out beer tasting as a fundraiser for The Friends of Carpenter’s Woods.)
Deutsch envisions Drexel becoming a destination for those interested in a culinary arts career because of its ability to connect students with industry-leading chefs in the thriving Philadelphia culinary scene, as well as the fact that students can earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
The program had 10 events scheduled this semester that connect students with industry professionals. At the last one, an executive chef, Brian Lofink, who runs three Philly restaurants, was so impressed by a student that he offered the student a job.
As a young man, Deutsch first found his love for cooking at home, even though his parents were not the cooking type. “Both my parents worked, and I loved to eat,” recalled Deutsch. “I realized the best way to eat what I wanted was to make it myself.”
He preferred working in the kitchen when he went away to Boy Scout camp (he was an Eagle Scout) instead of roughing it in the woods. At 13 he was already asking his parents if he could work in the kitchen at the summer camp for kids with disabilities that was started by his grandfather and run by his father.
But his mom wanted him and his brother to get an education. “You’re gonna cut you’re hand off, and then you’ll have nothing,” she used to warn him. So they made a deal. His parents would pay for culinary school if he agreed afterwards to get a bachelor’s degree.
After completing studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he applied to Drexel, where he later earned a BS in hospitality, culinary arts and culinary science.
At Drexel Deutsch was one of the few students who had actually worked in a kitchen before and knew how to cook. He had even worked for a stint in Japan through a high school co-op. After Drexel, Deutsch worked in various restaurants.
“I realized very quickly the faster you move up, the less cooking you do. All of a sudden, I was doing all this stuff that didn’t have to do with cooking … No one else can do things specific to your vision,” said Deutsch, explaining why executive chefs can be more like directors or coaches instead of the players firing the pans themselves.
After finishing his Drexel education, Deutsch, then 22, went to New York University and earned a Ph.D in food studies and food management. He taught for 13 years at the City University of New York. He returned to Drexel last fall to launch the new center.
Like art, food moves in trends. According to Deutsch, you don’t want to be serving a Caesar salad with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes today. That’s so early ’90s, he said. Today’s eater is more informed, more interested and more adventurous. Now cooking shows are all over TV, YouTube included.
So at the Drexel CHSM, some of the skills of its students are played out in real life at Academic Bistro, the school’s student run restaurant at 101 N. 33rd St., 6th floor, in University City.
In addition to his work at Drexel U., Deutsch has authored or co-authored numerous food-related books, such as “Gastropolis: Food and New York City;” “They Eat That? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World;” “Jewish American Food Culture (at Table)” and “Culinary Improvisation.” His latest book is “Barbecue: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2014).
“My brother and I both got as far away from (the typical academic life) as we thought possible,” said Deutsch. (Jonathan’s brother was a luthier (guitar maker) and is now a special ed teacher.) “We came full circle. It’s a good lesson to let kids find their own way.”