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Chef’s career is journey of perspective

Posted: July 17, 2015 4:18 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Jim Tatum/C-I

Chef Corey Green, executive chef at the University of South Carolina, talks to a group of children at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in the Antioch community about his career.

Corey Green has built an impressive career during the last 15 years.  

Currently an executive chef at the University of South Carolina (USC), Green’s career has taken him to places and provided opportunities to learn things he said he never would have dreamed of growing up in Camden.

His remarkable journey makes him eager to give back, to teach, to help others find their paths. 

“I got where I am by working hard, setting goals, and staying focused -- but everything I know I learned from others,” he said. “At every step, there was someone who saw something in me and was willing to help me live up to my potential.”

Green, a 1997 Camden High School graduate, moved to New Orleans right after graduation to see the world. He got a job at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street working in the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant. From the very first moment he stepped into the kitchen, Green was hooked, he said. 

“I found a mentor, and I worked hard,” he said. “Even when I was off, I would still hang around and try to learn what I could.”

Two years later, Green moved to Atlanta.

“I had about $1,100, my clothes, and my truck -- and that was it,” he said. 

Green went to a Renaissance Hotel in Atlanta and applied for a job. There were no openings in the kitchen, but the restaurant manager was impressed with Green and offered him a job on the wait staff. Green again worked very hard and tried to learn all he could. After six months, Green transferred into the kitchen.

The restaurant’s chef, Ed Dory -- one of only 73 professionals to hold the title of Master Chef in the U.S. -- became another important mentor for Green.

“The biggest thing he did for me was to let me make mistakes,” Green said. “That is how you learn. He taught me how to really be professional and not to settle for anything less than the best.”

Green worked there for two years, going to school and working. He paid for the first year himself and was able to secure a Hope Scholarship the next year. Green went to a job fair after graduation and had all but accepted a position with Ritz Carlton when he noticed two young women at an information booth.

As it turned out, they worked for a company hiring culinary graduates for jobs overseas. Before he knew it, Green was on his way to London, England, and a job with European luxury hotel chain Novotel. It was there, he said, he really stepped up his game.

“That experience changed my life,” Green said. “It made me the chef I am today. I came into it with some technique, but London is the place I found myself.”

Living abroad also exposed him to a wide variety of people and experiences, which gave him perspectives and insights he said he probably wouldn’t have been able to gain had he not made the choice to take the job in London.

“I got to travel, to work with the best people in our profession -- God put me there to get that exposure,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason; God has a plan.”

Green even met his wife while he was over there. His wife, Alina, is from Romania.

After some two and half years, Green came back to South Carolina. Ironically, and despite his experience in the highest level restaurants and hotels and his classical training, he could not find a job in South Carolina. Dory, the chef in Atlanta, hired him back to his old job. Green worked there before moving to the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, taking a job as a banquet chef with Palmetto Bluff Country Club.

“That was a great job -- the money was very good and the restaurant was topnotch -- but I was working all the time,” Green said.

Then, Camden’s Springdale Hall reached out to him. While Green took a pay cut, it provided not only an opportunity to work as an executive chef, but also offered the very important bonus of family support and quality of life. Green said he worked there for a year and did very well.

“Ultimately, that job came to an end -- they let me go,” he said. “That’s just a part of the business. However, it was at that time that The Pearl restaurant became available.”

Green took the leap of faith, put a lot of his own money into it, and set out on his own.

Unfortunately, this was also around the height of the Great Recession (2010) and, despite his best efforts, the restaurant went under after two years.

“I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything, either Springdale Hall or The Pearl,” he said. “Both gave me valuable knowledge and experience in areas I wanted to learn more about. Both were positive experiences.”

Nonetheless, Green needed a job, and soon landed a job as executive chef of the Waynesville (N.C.) Country Club. Again, while the money was good and the job satisfying, he found himself working long hours away from his family.

In 2013, USC offered Green his current job. He and his family moved back to Camden and, thus far, the situation has worked out very well on all fronts, he said.

But Green is not resting on any laurels; in fact, he is preparing for the executive chef certification examination in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The certification, given by the American Culinary Federation, is an important goal to achieve. Currently there are only 3,132 certified executive chefs in the U.S. Green said all the top executive chef jobs are held only by those who hold the credential.

He said he also plans to teach one day, hopefully in the relatively near future.

“My ultimate goal is to get into catering full time,” Green said. “I would really love to have a food truck -- I believe the Midlands is an area that holds great opportunity for that. But I also know the information I have gained over the years I need to give back. Everything I know I’ve learned from other people -- someone saw something in me and taught me.

“I want to inspire kids -- there are a lot of great things you can do with your life, and so many other ways to make a great living besides sports and show business.”

Ultimately, Green is about encouraging those who dream.

“Where you come from shouldn’t define who you are,” he said.

 

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