DiscoverU Classroom to Career Day: Q&A with Culinary Arts Student Tracy Woodruff

Tracy Woodruff

South Seattle College is excited to be partnering with the Road Map Project again this year for our annual Discover U Week; a week to build excitement around college and career exploration. South is joining educational and community organizations across the region to support our students and community members as they explore their futures and think about how education and training will help them reach their career goals.

To celebrate the power of an education in getting our students into a career they love, we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Woodruff, 23, a current student enrolled in South’s Culinary Arts program. With a passion for fast-paced fine-dining, this year Tracy started his first job in the culinary arts industry at Jimmy’s On Broadway at Seattle’s Silver Cloud Hotel. Beginning as a pantry cook, line/grill cook and now sauté chef, Tracy says the skills and lessons learned at South are exactly what he needed to start his journey to become an executive chef and restaurateur.


Q: What sparked your interest in Culinary Arts and cooking?

A: I’ve always felt that a career in culinary arts was staring me right in the face, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered going to school to become a chef. I have a lot of really great cooks in my family. My dad is s is an awesome amateur baker. I thought it would be cool to become the first professional chef in my family. So far, I don’t regret it.

Culinary is such a well-rounded field to go into as well. Every day in the industry you use your business, math and science skills. A chef has to be a jack-of-all-trades. You can take the skills you learn at South and put them towards a lot of different kinds of jobs out there. You could be a private chef, work for hotels or cook for any number of different restaurants. It’s very versatile.


Q: Why did you choose to apply for a position at Jimmy’s?

A: I wanted to get my start in hotel restaurants because they are very high demand culinary jobs. At Jimmy’s, we cook for our restaurant, take room service orders and cook for private parties and weddings. A lot of the time you’ll be preparing for three events at once. It’s incredibly fast-paced which I enjoy.


Q: What did you learn at South that you use every day on the job?

A: I think about the lessons and advice I’ve taken from the chef instructors at South. They have experience in the industry, and really encourage us to be awesome every day and do our very best. My personal philosophy at work is to, “Cook like the chefs are watching me,” something we say in the program at South. Thinking about what my instructors say to us in class really motivates me to go above and beyond at my work.


Q: Culinary Arts is a very demanding field of work; how do you keep yourself from burning out?

A: It’s hard, but every time you feel like you’re alone in the kitchen, you have to remember that you have a family here to pick you up when you’re down. When you have a good leader, they can instill confidence in you as well. That’s why I really like it here, there are real leaders here who want to help you succeed.

Overall, be proud of the work you do. This isn’t just fast food, you have to remember to put a little love and attention into everything you are making.


Q: What surprised you the most about working the industry?

A: When I first started working in the industry, it was a little intimidating. There is an initial shock when you realize that this isn’t practice anymore. There isn’t room for error, you have to do things right the first time. I have to say, Chef Young really prepared us for what to expect and the pressure you’ll be under. The learning environment created at South is really similar to what you’d expect in the industry.


Q: What is something new graduates should know before getting into the industry?

A: Don’t take your position for granted, and don’t take it lightly. If you are looking to move up in the industry; all you have to do is show up, do the best you can and work hard. It will pay off in the end. And remember to always ask for advice and try to learn from your mistakes.


Q: What are some of your long-term career goals?

A: I’d love one day to become an executive chef, and then maybe work at the Four Seasons. I’d love to get exposed to more fine-dining and really hone my skills in that area. My long term goal is definitely to open up my own restaurant in Seattle, centered on Mexican and Southwestern food. I’m originally from Arizona, so I’d love to give people around here a taste of what really authentic Southwestern food is like.


Q: Your Instagram handle shows life in and out of the kitchen, why do you think young chefs should embrace social media more?

A: Getting on social media and sharing my love of cooking is really what it’s all about. I see Instagram as a digital, visual resume. It’s a great way to find your brand, find your style, and connect with other chefs in the industry. The more creative you can get with the photos and videos you take, the more you will stand out. It’s become a great way to market your food and your personal brand, especially since I’d like to open my own restaurant.