Cierra Varnado is a senior in the culinary arts program at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). She and three of her classmates will be the first class to complete the program when they graduate this spring. Varnado spoke with Gambit about her favorite food memories, career plans and how to keep organized in the kitchen.
What inspired you to pursue cooking as a career?
Varnado: I remember being really small and watching the Food Network and Travel Channel and seeing people like Anthony Bourdain traveling around and cooking and talking with people. I wanted my own show like that, since I love food and love traveling and want to do more of it.
One of my teachers when I was in 8th grade at [Andrew H.] Wilson Charter School told me about the culinary program, and it just felt like destiny, because I was going into 9th grade and NOCCA was starting their new culinary program beginning with 9th graders.
What do you want to do once you graduate?
V: Over time, my career plans have really changed. At the end of [9th grade], I decided I didn't want a TV show but I wanted to own my own catering company. Catering seems to be more organized than running a restaurant, and I'm very organized. I'm also into meeting new people and establishing relationships, and you can't really do that when you're in the kitchen, in the back.
Right now I'm working with chef [Frank] Brigtsen at his restaurant once a week on Saturday nights, and he's my mentor.
My favorite kind of foods I'm interested in are cured meats and sausages — things you would find on a charcuterie board. I also really like to caramelize things, and my teachers say I'm good at it.
Have you been able to combine the culinary arts program with any of your other classes?
V: Yes, definitely! In science, we're doing bioengineering, so the kitchen is being used to grow herbs that are hybrids and learn more about GMO testing.
In my humanities class, when we were talking about racism and Cuvier's theory of race, I made cake balls to represent the different races according to his theory. They all tasted different, but I made them all red to show that we're all the same on the inside.