Perhaps best known for his appearances on cooking competition shows Top Chef and Beat Bobby Flay, celebrity chef Ron Duprat shared his personal journey from young immigrant to culinary icon in a School of Hotel Administration talk on Monday.
Duprat’s talk was just one part of a multi-day visit to Cornell University, which also included a roundtable conversation about diversity with SHA Ambassadors, said Victor Younger, director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
According to his website, Duprat first came to the United States as a 16-year-old over a harrowing 27-day boat journey. He was one of the few survivors in the boat to complete the trip from Haiti to Florida.
That journey was also where Duprat first found inspiration to become a chef.
“I was inspired,” Duprat said at the talk, “by those who were able to fish and feed and provide sustenance to the other people on the boat.”
Duprat started off as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Florida’s Little Italy and moved his way up the chain to become a chef, eventually attending the renowned Culinary Institute of America, according to Duprat’s website.
“If I can be here today, it’s because someone created a path for me,” Duprat said. “That person is Jefferson Evans.”
According to Duprat, Jefferson Evans was the Institute for Culinary Education’s first African-American graduate, a trailblazer for all other chefs of color and who inspired Duprat’s career dreams.
“We didn’t have the opportunity as minorities,” Duprat said of conditions within the industry.
Duprat, who was appointed United States culinary ambassador by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2010, has catered for celebrities and dignitaries from Beyonce to Haiti’s president elect Michel Martelly, his website said. Currently, he is the executive chef at The Bridgewater Country Club in Carmel, Indiana, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“We’re just really lucky to hear from somebody who has gone through the same experiences as a lot of the students, especially students of color,” said Julia Li ’20, president of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality. “To get to hear from him and about his experiences is very inspirational for us.”