Like many aspiring chefs, Aaron Cousineau grew up watching the Food Network and experimenting in the kitchen. He decided to pursue his culinary dreams in college after looking up to one well-known star on the Food Network: Bobby Flay, a TV personality, chef and restaurateur.
“He was one of my role models growing up,” Cousineau said.
Since graduating from Colorado Mountain College’s Culinary Institute in Edwards in 2012, Cousineau can say he’s not only met the famous chef a few times but that he works as a line cook at Flay’s restaurant, the Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“I was a little star-struck the first time I met him,” Cousineau admitted. “But it feels like I’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.”
And Cousineau can check one other accomplishment off his list: He made his first cameo on a video posted on the Food Network’s website during a food convention in Las Vegas.
In his short time in the city known nearly as much for its fine dining as for its nightlife, Cousineau has already worked at two well-known restaurants, the Mesa Grill and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro. He said he was able to secure the jobs because of the work experience he gained during his culinary education at CMC.
“The most important thing to becoming a successful chef is work experience,” he said. “CMC’s culinary program is based on learning by working on quality job sites.”
That work experience included jobs at upscale restaurants such as Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek and Atwater on Gore Creek in Vail, jobs that Cousineau said he had access to because of the partnerships the CMC Culinary Institute has built in the community.
“We have an amazing pool of restaurants for students to gain experience in our mountain town,” said Heather Weems, a culinary instructor at the college’s campus in Edwards.
The college’s culinary program in Edwards specializes in offering a degree in sustainable cuisine.
“The curriculum was created to prepare students for the rapidly growing trend for food that is healthy for people, the planet and our prosperity,” said Todd Rymer, director of education at the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute in Edwards. “In addition to offering courses on cooking and culinary management, the new program also focuses on growing food and guiding chefs to make decisions that enhance sustainability.”
Cousineau, who grew up in Glenwood Springs, has family there and graduated from Glenwood Springs High School in 2009, said he chose CMC because its program fit what he wanted to learn in a culinary education. He also chose CMC because it was more affordable than other culinary schools.
“You can pay a lot of money to attend culinary schools,” he said.
Cousineau racked up an impressive list of accomplishments during this time at CMC. He assisted the renowned chef Steve Topple at the 2011 Grand Tasting at the Ritz-Carlton, the Taste of Vail culinary festival and the Chefs of Chaîne Summertime in Piemonte fundraising dinner in 2012.
He also won the Jeunes Commis (young chefs) Rotisseur Competition, an event sponsored by Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, in Denver in 2011 and was invited to intern at restaurants like Daniel Boulud’s Daniel (in New York) and Mindy Segel’s Hot Chocolate (in Chicago).
“Aaron is one of those exceptional students who showed up outside of the classroom,” said Weems, who coached Cousineau for the culinary competitions. “He would put in time outside of class to acquire new skills, which he used during our practices.”
Although he enjoys the culinary scene in Las Vegas, Cousineau said having a culinary degree will allow him to move around and experience different cities. Eventually, he hopes to open his own restaurant or food truck.
“I just want to keep learning because you can’t ever stop learning in this industry,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work.”
Right after he earned the coveted position at Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas last December, Cousineau wrote a blog post for Colorado Mountain College highlighting what has helped him gain a step up in the culinary world.
“It’s the tools that I was given at the CMC Culinary Institute that helped build a solid foundation of knowledge, creativity and confidence,” he wrote. “I’ve had the spark in me my whole life, and my time in school is what really set the fire ablaze.”
“Aaron is one of those exceptional students who showed up outside of the classroom. He would put in time outside of class to acquire new skills, which he used during our practices.”
culinary instructor at CMC Edwards