From a Cajun Shack to the World! Chef Motivates Students to Pursue Culinary Dreams

Published 02.27.1998


"Success is living your dreams every day," Chef John Folse told a crowd of young people who are dreaming of careers in the kitchen.

Pennsylvania College of Technology's hospitality students and more than 150 high school students from across the state were treated to a motivational speech and cooking demonstration by Chef Folse on Friday, Feb. 6, in Penn College's Academic Center Auditorium. The internationally recognized Cajun and Creole cuisine chef was on hand to prepare the "Wild Beast Feast II," held the following evening in the College's Le Jeune Chef restaurant.

Chef Folse described growing up in "a Cajun shack" and how his passion for cooking and the universal appeal of food enabled him to travel the world.

In 1988, Chef Folse made international headlines by opening his "Lafitte's Landing East" in Moscow during the presidential summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The opening represented the first time an American restaurant had operated on Soviet soil. Immediately following the venture, he hosted 10 Soviet chefs for the first Soviet-American Culinary Exchange. In 1989, Chef Folse was invited to create the first-ever Vatican State Dinner in Rome, and, while there, served Pope John Paul II at his private home. Referred by some as "Louisiana's Ambassador to the World," Chef Folse has taken his own national television cooking show, "A Taste of Louisiana," from Hollywood to the Great Wall of China, opening promotional Louisiana restaurants in Hong Kong, Japan, Beijing, London, Paris, Rome, Bogota, Taipei and Seoul.

"I went from a Cajun shack to cooking dinner for the Pope and opening the first American restaurant in the Soviet Union," he said to the audience, affirming the point that, in the culinary field, all dreams are possible.

"I'm a dreamer and I live my dreams every single day and I aspire to do the impossible because everything is possible," he encouraged.

Chef Folse also talked to the students about the importance of being a chef and how chefs touch the lives of everyone and bring people from different cultures together. "Food is universal!," he enthused.

He noted that it is important to show professionalism and excitement when applying for a job in the culinary field and also addressed the need for perseverance.

"Success is determined by the first step you take after you fail," he said. "Whether you're successful or not is up to you. Nobody is going to wake you up. Nobody is going to set your alarm clock. You have to get to the Great Wall of China by yourself!"

While cooking "Louisiana Seafood Gumbo" for the audience, Chef Folse spoke of the importance of building layers of flavors and allowing time for the flavors to marry.

"You need to invest the time for a dish to be successful, you need to invest the time for your dreams to be realized," he coached.

In addition to his award-winning Lafitte's Landing Restaurant in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, Chef Folse's company includes White Oak Plantation, in Baton Rouge, which houses his catering division, and Louisiana's Premier Products, his manufacturing division, which sells products to establishments all over the world including such megacompanies as Red Lobster. In addition to his PBS series, "A Taste of Louisiana," Folse has a syndicated radio show, "Stirrin' It Up!," and is the author of "The Evolution of Cajun & Creole Cuisine" and "Plantation Celebrations."

Chef Folse's session with the students was sponsored by Penn College's Tech Prep Consortium. It was followed by a luncheon hosted by Penn College hospitality students. Seven schools, all members of the consortium, participated in the activity: Keystone Central, Columbia-Montour, Mount Joy, Upper Bucks, West Side (Kingston) and Wilkes Barre area vocational-technical schools, as well as the Schuylkill Career Technology Center.

Chef Folse noted at the gathering that this was his third trip to Penn College.

"Why do you think I'm here for the third year now?" he asked. "I live in Southern Louisiana! I live outside of New Orleans and it's Mardi Gras time! Why would I come to Williamsport, Pennsylvania? Because this school inspires me. The faculty, the buildings, the students all inspire me. I look at the quality of the institution you have here and I hear it yelling out: 'Come and be passionate! Come and be successful! Come and live your dreams! We have it all right here!'"