Weekend Wisdom

Stephanie Hersh ’79

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s much more important to be nice.”
“It began when I got a Betty Crocker Easy-Bake Oven. At the age of 6, I knew I wanted to be a pastry chef. People thought it was cute and gave encouragement for my baking. It stayed cute until I was about to graduate from Kent Place. Then, as I sent out applications to culinary schools, it suddenly wasn’t so cute: ‘You’re too smart to work in a kitchen.’ ‘You’re too talented to be just a cook.’ ‘Women don’t cook professionally.’ Disapproving comments continued until I reluctantly agreed to get an undergraduate degree before determining my career path.

“The concerns of my parents and guidance counselors were well founded. It was true that cooking was manual labor, and the Food Network didn’t exist. Indeed, not many women cooked professionally. So off I went to Franklin & Marshall College. It wasn’t the path I wanted to travel, but I went forth with the confidence and integrity that Kent Place had instilled in me. I met wonderful people, learned all sorts of social skills, and reinforced my desire to pursue a culinary career.

“I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and worked in several Boston restaurants before finding my dream job. I had the great honor of working with Julia Child for almost 16 years. There’s no doubt that had I not followed the advice to get a BA first, I wouldn’t have ended up in the right place at the right time with the right skills. Julia was my mentor, friend, and inspiration. Every day with her was awesome. She was gracious and charming and had a brilliant sense of humor. She taught me many things, but the most valuable one is that although it’s nice to be important, it’s much more important to be nice.

“A lot has changed since I began my journey in the culinary world. It’s now recognized as a complicated profession that requires a strong education. I’m grateful to be a part of it. In any job, you can be successful and happy as long as you’re passionate about what you do and follow your heart — and are nice.”

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Kent Place School is an all-girls K through 12 independent college preparatory day school with a coeducational Preschool, located in Summit, NJ.