As chair of the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, Maureen Pothier is responsible for overseeing the curriculum and faculty and teaches classes in New World, traditional European, and international cuisines, stocks, sauces, and soups, and food safety and sanitation. Before becoming a culinary instructor, she was executive chef and co-owner of the Bluepoint Oyster Bar & Restaurant in Providence. An ardent member of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR), she served on the organization’s board for seven years and as was its president for a term. She holds an M.B.A. from Johnson & Wales, as well diplomas from Madeleine Kamman’s School for American Chefs and the Rhode Island School of Design. Known for her generosity of spirit, Pothier has helped launch the careers of many aspiring culinarians.
Q: What advice do you give to your students that you wish you had received early in your own career?
I give a lot of advice to students, but more on an as needed basis. I am a strong advocate of learning through doing. Students receive so much advice while they are in school and it often goes in one ear and out the other, until a particular circumstance is actually encountered. ‘Don’t burn bridges’ doesn’t actually mean much until they do burn a bridge and encounter the consequences.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle for women in the industry, and how does WCR reach out to aspiring women restaurant professionals?
The restaurant industry has progressed in many positive ways for women since 1993, when the WCR was formed by Barbara Tropp and seven other prominent restaurateurs. Pay equity remains a problem, as does the percentage of women holding top positions, such as executive or corporate chef.
WCR gives support, facilitates communication, and provides educational opportunities. The annual Scholarship and Internship Program offers a range of opportunities, from international travel to culinary school scholarships, wine studies, and internships. The WCR National Conference is a platform for the exchange of ideas, and offers development programs across a wide range of topics. The Women Who Inspire Awards Program celebrates those in the industry who are role models for other women; and our Local Exchange allows members in various cities to network on a more frequent basis.
Q: Which is more stressful, running a kitchen or a classroom?
Both are equally stressful, though in different ways. A good teacher cares for her students as individuals, just as a good chef cares for her kitchen and staff. Their trials and tribulations become yours. In culinary school, we are orchestrating a kitchen of 20 students, teaching proper use of knives, food safety, sanitation, braising, stewing, roasting, grilling, poaching, plating, garnishing, serving, tasting, etcetera. And, we are grading them, too. There is never a dull moment.
Q: You specialize in food and wine pairing. Is it a skill that can be taught?
Specific food and wine pairings can be taught. However, sensory development builds over time through experience and tasting. Consequently, building the skill itself requires many years, and dedication to learning flavor profiles of food and wine.
Q: What is your favorite seafood dish to prepare?
I love all seafood. But, if I had to choose, it may be a lobster and clam bake with corn, new potatoes, and white Burgundy. Or, when in season, a boiled and chilled Dungeness crab served with hot, lightly salted butter, a crusty loaf of warm bread, and a bottle of Washington State Semillon/Sauvignon blend. But then again, I like finfish, too. So on another day, it may be pan-roasted King salmon with Pinot Noir sauce, braised lentils du Puy with cucumber and oyster mushrooms and a bottle of Russian River Pinot Noir.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world to learn a new cuisine, where would you go?
I have always wanted to travel to the Basque regions of both France and Spain. The food, wine, and culture are of great interest to me.