For Eric Cartwright, the best possible gig shares his level of passion and provides opportunities to practice it. He met his match at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., where he’s the executive chef.
“As much as I love restaurants, you’re really committed to a singular concept,” he says. “You don’t have the flexibility to do what we can do.”
A year into his current post, the University of Missouri's dining services won an Ivy Award, an industry accolade for culinary excellence. And eight years later, Cartwright is still feeling it.
He oversees 20 campus outlets, allowing him to experiment with flavors and cuisines for the university’s 35,000 students. “They have a growing appreciation and higher level of expectation for food,” he says. “When you have a customer base like that, it’s very rewarding. You’re always learning, too.”
There are often surprises, like the kimchee fried rice that he wasn’t sure about but the kids loved. “We do a spicy tofu noodle dish that we thought we would make a few servings [of], but now we can’t keep up with [the demand],” Cartwright says.
The key is not to worry too much whether a dish is healthy or vegetarian-friendly. “We focus on deliciousness and high quality,” he says. “When we do that, it works.”
Most important lesson that’s stuck with you? No matter how many times you make a recipe, always taste it.
What kind of beer do you drink? Corona in the bottle, Newcastle Brown Ale on tap.
How many burn marks do you have? I quit counting burns years ago!
Thomas Keller or Tom Colicchio? Thomas Keller.
Longest shift you ever pulled? 28 hours working for a catering company.
Worst thing anyone has ever called you? You ignorant punk—by a salesman who wanted my business.
Your ideal vacation? Sailing in a small yacht in the Caribbean eating fresh seafood. There is no feeling like that of the open sea.
It's All About Me
Started cooking at age 12 (chicken ’n dumplings in the pressure cooker without permission).
Attended Johnson & Wales University, Charleston, S.C. Past stints include Ford’s Colony in Williamsburg, Va., and other fine dining spots and sous chef at Virginia Tech, nationally lauded for dining services.
Recognized as Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation-Central Missouri chapter.