After decades spent working in fine dining, teaching, opening a culinary school and feeding thousands of school students, chef LJ Klink has been inducted into the American Academy of Chefs.
Klink, who has appeared on Food Network television shows “Extreme Chef” and “Guy’s Grocery Game,” has worked for the past seven years as the director of nutrition services and district executive chef for the Cheney School District. He has also been an adjunct professor at Spokane Community College.
He traces his love of food to the age of 3. His grandparents formerly owned a restaurant and his grandmother began babysitting him when he was a toddler. Naturally, she taught him everything she knew.
“My grandma taught me food and poker,” he said. “Every day she taught me how to do math and science and reading with cooking. Every day we had something we had to do in the kitchen.”
His family moved to Cheney in 1988, where his parents opened Klink’s on the Lake on Williams Lake. His father had grown up in his parents’ restaurant and his mother was a pastry chef, which made his love of cooking even more natural. Klink worked at the resort off and on over the years.
Klink graduated from the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at SCC, then apprenticed himself to chef Peter Tobin. He worked at his family’s resort for several years before taking a job in Alaska for a while in a private lodge.
“I cooked for the top 1%,” he said.
After coming back to Washington, he taught, did consulting work and helped open restaurants. In 2007, he moved to Illinois to start a culinary school at Richland Community College, where he stayed for four years. While he was there, he started doing two-minute spots on a local television station about food and cooking.
That exposure led to an appearance on “Extreme Chef” on Food Network in 2011. After that, he started working extensively with Food Network as a producer and writer.
But he would soon find his career changing course thanks to a comment made by his 4-year-old daughter, who said that she knew that her friends didn’t have as good of food as she did. He felt compelled to do what he could to change that.
“It moved me,” Klink said.
Two weeks later, he saw that the Empire Health Foundation was looking for a part-time traveling chef to visit local schools to teach kids how to cook from scratch. His role grew and expanded in the four years he was with the foundation. That led to the job with the Cheney School District.
Klink was one of 13 chefs to be inducted into the American Academy of Chefs this year. Chefs are required to be nominated by two members and Klink said he got three nominations.
“I was extremely humbled by the experience and it was really cool,” he said. “It is the honor society and it’s very prestigious.”
He had to put together a portfolio of work that was reviewed by a panel of chefs before his induction was approved
During his career, Klink earned numerous certifications through the American Culinary Foundation. He’s a certified executive chef, certified culinary administrator and is an approved certification evaluator. He was named a world certified executive chef by the World Association of Chef Societies, is a master certified food service executive through the International Food Service Executives Association, and is a certified food service educator through the Foodservice Educators Learning Community.
Until two weeks ago, Klink planned to continue his work with the Cheney School District, but then he got an offer he couldn’t refuse – a chance to go back to the classroom. Next week he will be at the Washington State University Pullman campus as the Marriott Foundation Hospitality & Culinary Innovation Center director and executive chef of Hospitality Business Management.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “I didn’t expect to go anywhere.”
Klink said he’s excited to be doing hands-on work in a kitchen again. As part of his new job, he will teach basic cooking skills to hospitality students.
“I’m looking forward to fulfilling that love and passion I have for teaching,” he said. “At the end of the day, I love to cook.”
Nina Culver can be reached at email@example.com.
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