Chef Dave Skinner has cooked for hundreds of esteemed clientele while working as the head chef of CMC’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. His job forces him to make food for large groups of people without having to sacrifice the quality of sublime cuisine. Miraculously, he does it every Monday through Friday, week after week, and will be celebrating his 25th year working at CMC this April.
In a student body in which every member has a tie to the Athenaeum — whether a server, food preparer, attendee, or any combination of the three — Chef Dave is a familiar face to a majority of the CMC students, faculty, and staff, which is something he is extremely proud of. Having begun work as a busboy when he was sixteen years old, Chef Dave looked upon the kitchen and knew he had found his calling; he always wanted to be in the high-intensity world of cooking. Intrigued by the skillful techniques and artistic gestures, he knew he would have to work the trenches to make it as a chef. After many painstaking years, the admiration he felt for those cooks is now the admiration many feel for him.
After working in a number of different restaurants along Lake Street in Pasadena, Chef Dave began attending classes at Pasadena City College in the Hospitality Management Program while continuing his work in kitchens. Balancing school and his job was no easy task, but he eventually landed his first chef gig at Rocketdyne, a serving company used by NASA.
Later, after working at the Hilton and the Friendly Hills Country Club, he ended up at the Center Club of Orange County — a social club in Costa Mesa — as a sous-chef. There, he worked alongside highly accomplished chefs, many of whom went on to become famous. While he had the opportunity to be in the presence of excellent peers, he decided that working full-time and getting home at two in the morning with a two-year-old son, Shane, and wife, Darlene, also working full-time, wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. Without weekends and holidays off he was barely able to spend time with his family, so while many of his peers took the Center Club job as a springboard into fame, Chef Dave decided to take an alternative route and began his work here at the Athenaeum.
Beaming as he speaks about Darlene, Shane, and his now 23-year old daughter, Danielle, he is elated that he has had the opportunity to spend the past 25 years contributing to the atmosphere of CMC. “Working here has made me a better person,” he tells me after I ask why he’s so happy here. He continues, “Being around great people makes a great quality of life. I love being able to rub shoulders with great young minds.”
Flustered by his generosity, I continue to ask him about his time at the Athenaeum. As a cook here, he has the privilege of maintaining an extensive repertoire, with courses ranging from salmon with braised fennel dill sauce to grilled cheese with tomato soup. He has the freedom to pioneer meals from all around the world due to students and speakers coming from every corner of the globe, which is an opportunity that many chefs never have.
Chef Dave also notes that another joy of his job is the ability to teach. Helping young adults navigate around a kitchen has taught him the patience necessary for effective teaching without sacrificing poignant instruction. “I think being a chef and training someone is a lot like a coach training his athletes. Sometimes you need to be direct and firm. If someone is doing something wrong, you need to tell them it’s wrong.” He explains that CMC has helped him walk the line of being a good teacher while maintaining his genuine kindness. He is now taking his teaching outside of the Athenaeum in the form of private lessons, bringing only his knives and expertise to the venue.
This community is extremely lucky to have such a talented chef among our ranks. The consistently delicious food and varied entrees at the Athenaeum make it difficult to not just come for the meals. Chef Dave’s generosity to teach others his abilities should make every employee cherish their job and tempt each student to consider reaching out for a conversation or even simply a friendly hello.