Shane Hancock embarked on his culinary journey in a renovated 1970s kitchen at the former Waxahachie High School. Now, he cooks professionally under a James Beard award-winning chef, Tyson Cole.
The 2016 Waxahachie High graduate earned his spot on the line at the high-end Japanese restaurant, Uchi, in Austin following his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America in March.
Last Friday, he visited his mentor, friend and former culinary arts teacher, Joel Skipper, at the state-of-the-art cooking facility at the new WHS campus. Hancock was immediately taken aback by the size and quality of the equipment.
“I expect a lot of really cool stuff to come out of the kitchen. There is a lot to their advantage,” Hancock challenged the current students.
“Coming back here, and seeing how the high school put in all this money in the program to grow like this, shows that they see real potential in Skipper and the program," Hancock said.
After the tour, Skipper whipped up lunch and set the table for the guest of honor, a couple senior culinary art students, WISD Director of Communication Jenny Bridges and the Daily Light.
Hancock's girlfriend, Jessica Hermon, who is a lead line cook at the Driskill, which is a luxury hotel in Austin, was also seated with the group.
Over a plate of Cajun shrimp and grits, Hancock flashed back to his sophomore year, when the culinary department was first established. He recalled learning the foundations of the art in a kitchen equipped with five ovens — two gas and three electric. He also remembered that Skipper brought his personal equipment and utensils to class.
“Without Skipper and this program, I wouldn’t be at this point,” Hancock recognized. “I might have found it later in life. I wouldn’t have found my passion for food.”
With a narrow interest in cooking, Hancock decided to enroll in the first culinary class thinking it would be an easy credit. Then, toward the second semester of this sophomore year, he had the opportunity to compete at a Family, Career and Community Leaders of America contest.
Hancock was quick to participate.
The opportunities that FCCLA introduced allowed Hancock to realize his passion as well as the experience gained in The Reservation — the student-run kitchen and restaurant — that began his junior year.
Through FCCLA competitions and academics, Hancock obtained scholarship money and the desire to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
He described a gorgeous campus adjacent to the Hudson River in High Park, New York. He lived on campus and enjoyed his coursework and the experimental dishes his dorm-mates would create in the community kitchen.
“My first year of school I was kind of timid,” he disclosed. “I asked a lot of questions, and I didn’t really go for it.”
Hancock noted several students who struggled dropped out, while he persevered.
Between his two years in school, students participated in an internship. A career fair introduced him his first break. For a four-month period, Hancock worked at Uchi in Dallas.
There was a bit of a learning curve that his education did not prepare him for.
“I walked in there, and a lot of the names are in Japanese like eggplant and cauliflower," Hancock explained. "And they [co-workers] were like, ‘go get this.’ And I’m like, ‘I have no idea what you’re saying right now."
Hancock overcame the language barrier, learned the ropes and began to find more of himself in the dishes he prepared.
“During my internship, I learned to go for it, and I got my confidence,” he elaborated. “I came by for my second year and just blew through the water and really raised the bar.”
Hancock graduated from the culinary institute in March 2018 and has already kick-started his career as a line cook at Uchi in Austin.
“We are the ones that get stuff done,” he explained. “We are the ones that are hands-on making the food that goes out to the people. Right now, I’m not at a specific station, but I’m working different ones.”
His shifts range from 10 to 12 hours, and in one evening the restaurant can serve up to 300 guests. Sometimes he will go in early to prepare for an extensive shift and even goes in on his days off to cook the special of the day.
“On a typical week I work four days on, but the past couple of weeks it’s been five days and a couple times I’ve done seven days straight,” he said.
At the beginning of his professional career, Hancock plans to enrich his culinary experience with various types of cuisine. Currently, he focuses on his self-discipline and putting pride in every dish.
A SHINING STAR
Skipper iterated that culinary art is not for everyone and explained it has been Hancock's ambition that landed him on the ideal stepping stone after college.
“It goes to reiterate what I tell my kids," Skipper said. "In his particular situation, yeah, you can get there — so you’re not always going to start off working for a James Bearden chef your first rattle out of the box. But you can get there.”
After Skipper elaborated on the brutal hours and labor chefs endure, he and Hancock compared burns they received from the kitchen and swapped stories.
“He’s a shining star for this program, and right now he is the benchmark," Skipper praised. "We’ve got other students that are shooting for that benchmark, and he’s set the bar.”
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450