Over his career, Mike Updike has worked as everything from a backhoe operator to a truck driver to an IT consultant to, currently, an oil company executive in Houston, TX. His journey to Culinary Boot Camp—Basic Training has had just about as many interesting stops.
“I grew up in a ranching community in northern Canada and cooking was just about as basic and simple as it could possibly get,” Mike says. “Meat, starches, boiled vegetables, gravy on a fancy night. When I set out on my own to college, I can’t remember not destroying a piece of meat in a frying pan over an electric stove. I lived most of those years on Kraft mac and cheese or minute rice and green peas.”
“Later, in my married life, my wife Maggie and I moved from Canada to Texas and I took on a job as an IT business consultant,” he says. “That meant leaving home on Monday morning at the crack of stupid, flying to whatever city I was posted to—Boston, Chicago, Tulsa, New Orleans—and then flying back home on Thursday or Friday night. I had been eating in restaurants all week, and my wife had been eating at home. I wanted to eat in and she wanted to go out. So we struck a deal—if she would go buy groceries, I would cook for the both of us when I got home.”
And so began Mike’s love affair with cooking.
Fast-forward a few years to 2016, when he decided “This is the year” and signed up for Basic Training Boot Camp. “I’m hugely glad I took this class, and I will be taking another one and another one,” he says. “I’ve gotten as much and more out of it than I expected. I was very surprised at how many things I’m already doing well, and equally, I found myself saying, ‘Oh, I can do this differently.’ Chef Garnero encourages you to stop for a minute and think, ‘What else can I do?’ besides just following the recipe. He is of the mind that if you have some basic principles in mind, then you can make changes to make your dish better.”
So what was Mike’s most important takeaway from Boot Camp? Creativity. “Boot Camp is helping me break my way out of a wet paper bag,” he says. “I’ve cooked stuff this week that I’ve never cooked before, and done things I’ve never done before, like cutting up a whole chicken. Boot Camp has opened up so much inventiveness and a broader range of what I’m willing to try. I learned better ways to do things and had some ‘aha’ moments with cooking techniques.”
During his week on the New York campus, Mike made time to eat at several of the college’s dining venues, including The Tavern at American Bounty, the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, and The Bocuse Restaurant. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity while I’m here,” he says. “I’ve lost sleep with the excitement thinking about what’s coming the next day.”
Because, who knows what awaits Mike next on his culinary journey?
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