You know you want to go to culinary school and a career in food is definitely the goal but maybe restaurant work isn’t your thing. We hear you — we get a lot of career changers at San Francisco Cooking School, both as students and as teachers.
We make it a point to introduce our students to all kinds of opportunities in food, and it’s amazing how many of the guests we have in the kitchen have come to food as their second career. In this Changing Careers series, we talk to those brave souls who have made that leap of faith to follow their dream of a career in food.
We chatted with Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy, maker of delicious tofu-based artisan foods-fresh tofu, silky yuba, soymilk, and even v-EGG-an Salad. If you’ve ever tasted Minh’s tofu products, you’ll know why some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants seek them out. Heck, even Chipotle uses Hodo tofu in their veggie burritos. Here’s what Minh has to say about changing careers and sexy tofu:
What did you do in your previous life?
I have my BA and MA from Columbia in Economic Development and spent 10 years in finance, as an investment banker and also a financial software builder.
Why the career change to tofu?
Because tofu is sexy! Kidding aside, I choose tofu because I love it as a food, and think it is an amazing food once people figure out how to eat it and play with it. Plus, I like to eat good food, and know where it comes from and how it is made. Food is more recession proof.
I grew up in Vietnam, where I fell I love with fresh tofu but could never find product like that here. I finally decided that this was an opportunity and in 2004 I seized it and founded Hodo Soy.
Doing my own production has many challenges. But the biggest hurdle, one that will remain with Hodo as we continue our growth, is ensuring that product quality remains exceptionally high!
Can you tell us what a typical day is like for you now?
For me, typical days including checking in with our management team to discuss projects, making decisions, and ensuring that the beanery operates properly so we can produce tofu at highest quality. I am always using skills from my “previous life” to manage and improve what happens at Hodo.
Do you ever regret the career change?
No, I never regret making the change to food. I was afraid initially about whether I had made the right decision, but the more I worked in the industry, the more I found it satisfying as there are lots of opportunities to learn and grow personally.
How did having your prior career make you better at what you do now?
Absolutely, finance and consulting were great careers to have prior to starting my own business. They help me plan and strategize well before executing. But these prior careers would not have been too helpful had I not enjoyed executing and running a food operation.
If you were to give a piece of advice to culinary students looking to pursue a career in food, what would it be?
Role models are key. I have some great ones, from June Taylor to Steve Sullivan to Bill Niman . I also have a great board of directors that include my parter and CFO John Notz, John Scharffenberger (of Scharffen Berger Chocolate) and Billy Bramlett (one of the co-founders of Wild Wood tofu). These folks help keep me grounded and focused on making good products and running a sustainable company.
But, most importantly, have the courage to learn, grow, change, fail, and restart as you go.