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Christopher Koetke MBA ’07 is one of those fortunate individuals who knew from an early age exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I was in sixth grade and sitting in the back seat of the car stressing about what I wanted to be when I grew up when it just hit me. I wanted to be a chef,” Koetke recalls. “Whenever we had company over, I always ended up in the kitchen, so I guess it was destined to happen.”
With that plan in mind, at the age of 13 he landed his first job in a professional kitchen. After several years of correspondence back and forth with famed chef Julia Child, at age 16 he had the opportunity to meet the grande dame of cooking herself, and his fate was sealed. His career has taken him to positions in several of the world’s finest restaurants in France and the United States, as a certified executive chef and a certified culinary educator.
Today, as the vice president of culinary arts programs for Laureate International Universities and the executive director of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago, Koetke provides strategic leadership for all of Laureate’s culinary arts programs, which are offered at nine institutions in nine countries. He is also the host of the Emmy-nominated cooking show “Let’s Dish” on the Live Well HD Network.
“I am eternally fascinated by food — once it is in your blood, it never gets out,” Koetke says. “Food is a creative outlet – thus, the name culinary arts. It is an art form that involves creating something very special as well as very social.”
And like all arts, Koetke says, the culinary arts involve a journey of discovery. “The fun thing about a journey with food is that it doesn’t have a foreseeable end. Like many chefs, I have gone through phases believing and following different styles,” he says. “The culinary arts is a profession where upward mobility is intrinsic.”
Koetke’s career is evidence of that fact. Since joining Kendall College in 1998 as a culinary instructor, his teaching career progressed rapidly as he assumed positions of greater leadership. In 2009, the International Association of Culinary Professionals named him Cooking Teacher of the Year, and under his leadership, the school received the Academy of Culinary Arts Cordon d’Or Gold Ribbon Cooking School of the Year Culinary Academy Award for 2008.
“If someone had told me at the age of 15 that one day I would have a national television show, write a book, contribute to magazines, manage culinary schools in nine countries and work with many of the world’s greatest chefs, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Koetke says. “While I’ve worked hard for it, I’ve been incredibly fortunate.”
Koetke’s belief that education opens many unexpected doors led him to pursue his Master of Business Administration at Dominican.
“Having my MBA has been terrifically invaluable to me as a chef. To be successful I have to understand business and how to make a profit. Dominican is a great place and I’m proud to have gone there for my degree.”
In 2011, the Brennan School of Business presented Koetke with its Alumnae/i Award for Professional Achievement.
“I have found myself in situations meeting with financial experts and lawyers that I was never prepared for as a chef. Having a business background has been essential to what I have accomplished, and without my MBA I would not be in my current position,” he says. “Chefs need to understand business because restaurant failures are not the result of culinary mistakes, they are business mistakes.”
While Koetke wears many hats in his position, of all of his accomplishments he says he is most proud of his role as a teacher, where he shares critical lessons in discipline, patience and detail.
“As a teacher, I’ve been able to touch and influence lives, and many of my students have gone on to great careers. They’re not just making money—they are making a difference.”