Host Profile: Chef Michael Poole of Seattle
Who would have imagined Seattle firefighter Michael Poole would end up as a pastry chef running his own chocolate business? Read on to hear the story of how the Le Cordon Bleu graduate began his culinary career.
Tell us more about yourself: how did you come to be a pastry chef?
My career really started when got I into the fire department. It was quite the long journey -- I went on to start food concessions and excelled at cooking there, and I became very passionate very quickly. I specialized in Jamacian food for a number of years
Cooking lunches for people working for clothing companies; Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, and the like, so I was working with people who went out to eat all the time. They would always discuss the fine meals they had had the night before, where they were going to eat next, so this sparked my desire to go to culinary school.
A friend of mine took a day class at Le Courdon Bleu. We were talking about it, and I kept saying oh, this is something I've always wanted to do... they finally asked: Why don’t you? So I did. I enrolled.
To graduate, it was only a 9 month course, and you could split it up over a number of years. That's what I did; I kept job at fire department, and ended up going Paris for three months at a time while working in the U.S. the other nine. After those years of (very hard) work, I graduated specializing in patisserie, so that's where the chocolate-making came from.
The third year I went back to school, a friend opened a chocolate shop in Paris. She said, while you're here, come work for me and I'll pay you! I began working with her while I attended school, and I took the chocolate-making home with me.
I came back to the U.S. and I was doing a lot of catering, so I added chocolate at the end -- in France, at the end, you always have a little chocolate. Soon, people started to ask, Where can we get these? When I said they weren't for sale, people insisted that I start to sell the chocolates. One thing led to another, and I started selling them in addition to catering.
I had a group of guy friends who would take a cooking class every year, and one year they wanted a chocolate-making class for Valentine's Day. I hadn't taught a cooking class before, but I put something together something for them. They put it on social media and pretty soon, the girlfriends wanted to take the class, their friends did...
I’ve been working at this (cooking) for 38 years, and you never know what door is going to open. It's been a long journey.
How did you arrive in the culinary industry from your beginnings in the fire department?
When I first got into the fire department, outside of Seattle, I was based in a really slow part of town -- a real sleepy hollow. I was twenty-one, I wanted to be where the action was! So I put in a letter to move to a downtown station — I got the job, but there was one stipulation — you had to be able to cook!
I've always loved cooking, I read magazines like Bon Appetit, so this was no problem for me. I accepted and moved to downtown Seattle and worked as a chef at the fire station! I loved experimenting with those meals and trying new things, it really let me find my beginnings as a chef.
What are your major achievements/meaningful moments in your business thus far?
I graduated from culinary school . . . that was one big moment. Along the way, I won several chocolate competitions — making chocolates, caramels, lemon meringues, and the like. Honestly, I’ve done a lot of school, and I'm still working on my culinary education. Just two weeks ago, I went to little town in France and took a course - L’école du Grand Chocolat in Valhrona. I'm still trying to learn as much as I can.
What were the initial hurdles that you had to get through?
Oh, there’s always hurdles to overcome. Confidence, believing in yourself . . . I'm always told I have bad culinary chops, but I don't let it get to me.
No matter how good I am, I want to always be better. Because I worked only four days a week for twenty-four hours with the fire department, I had plenty of time to pursue other things, so I really threw myself into cooking. I've definitely made a lot of progress since I began as a pastry chef.
Any advice for other people who want to start their own business and pursue what they love?
It's simple: believe in yourself, never lose sight of your dreams. If you work long and hard enough, something good will happen. That's it.