Chris Leathem: Hands-on learning

When he was 12, Chris Leathem learned how to make crepes. Whenever his mother had guests, he would whip up a batch, serving them with fresh fruit, cream cheese, peanut butter, or anything else that struck his fancy.

“The ability to make something that is going to make somebody else happy is what I love about cooking,” said Leathem, who is an adjunct professor teaching front-of-house classes at SUNY Adirondack’s Culinary Arts Center and restaurant, Seasoned.

After graduating from Glens Falls High School in 2016, Leathem tried his hand in the workforce. “I bounced around between jobs doing a little bit of everything — construction, landscaping,” he said. “I was just kind of tired of working a whole bunch of different jobs and I knew that if I got a degree, I’d be able to choose the job I want.”

He enrolled at SUNY Adirondack in 2019 and, he said, “dove headfirst into Culinary.” 

His grandmother and mother went to culinary school and worked in the food industry. “I’ve been around cooking my entire life,” he said. 

But transitioning to college didn’t come easily. “It took a while to get into it,” Leathem admitted. “I’m not the best when it comes to academics, but hands-on learning is how I learn best. Once I figured out that Culinary is pretty much all hands on, it got a lot better for me.”

As he attended school, he took a job washing dishes at a regional restaurant. When the restaurant changed locations, Leathem was the first intern hired.

“The owner liked my work ethic so much, he offered me a job after finishing the internship,” Leathem marveled.

As sous chef and kitchen manager, he was responsible for making sure preparation was done, creating the scheduling, coming up with specials and designing new dishes for the menu.

His innovation is fueled by watching TV shows about cooking, tasting and experimenting with foods, and talking shop with other professionals.

“I pick up things here and there, then introduce the techniques or ingredients into a recipe I want to try,” he said. “There’s great creativity to it all.”