As a child, Julie Catena would watch people make meals.
“I was fascinated by what was on the stove, how it was made and how a small change could make or break a dish,” she said. “I was thrilled when my parents finally let me have a go at making things in the kitchen. I now enjoy creating in the kitchen, trying new formulas, new flavors and new methods. I especially love sharing my latest project with friends or family. The look of pleasure on their faces when you create something they thoroughly enjoy is gratifying.”
Catena initially earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and worked as a process engineer for a consumer product goods company as well as in marketing and sales for international companies.
“I enjoyed everything I did. The goods I worked on, however, were not nearly as interesting to me as food,” she said. “My internal compass always points me toward food.”
When contemplating a return to the workforce, Catena knew she had to follow her passion. This meant brushing up on some skills and picking up new ones. A network contact suggested culinology and pointed her toward College of DuPage, which is the only local school in the area offering a Culinology degree.
She currently is interning in product development at Golden State Foods and loves it. Upon completing her Associate in Applied Science degree, Catena would like to continue working in the same area.
“Food is chemistry,” she said. “My knowledge of the technical aspects of production, understanding of the consumer, adaptability, and desire to create drives me to always make improvements to whatever I am working on in a kitchen. I pay attention to details and keep them in mind as I create.”
Catena credits her professors at College of DuPage for providing the knowledge and sharing their own work experiences with students.
“The chefs who I have encountered at COD are, in a word, incredible,” she said. “Each one has a unique and personal style. What they bring to the table, in addition to their own personal approach, is a breadth of scope, technical skill, experience and knowledge with a passion to share this information. Every single person who I have been fortunate to learn with teaches me something new and different. I always pay attention to what happens around me, food-wise. I have not run out of new things to learn about.
“I encourage all students to become a thirsty sponge and pick up everything that you can, both spoken and unspoken, from everyone you encounter teaching your classes or coming in as guests to speak during your classes. Their backgrounds are varied and their collective interests are broad. Get into discussions about what they notice in the industry. Ask questions – none of them bite, I promise.”