Date Graduated: 2006, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin
Degree: Associate of Applied Science in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts
Current Position: Southwest Regional Recipe Specialist, Whole Foods, Austin, Texas
From beginning a new career to developing fresh, wholesome recipes for the 20 Whole Foods Market stores in the southwest United States, Chef Robert Bellah's life exemplifies a fresh take on the pursuit of passion. An Austin local, Bellah was a dissatisfied publishing professional who turned his life into a gastronomic adventure with a culinary education from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin.
Following graduation, Bellah focused on cold food preparation and presentation during the opening of the Whole Foods Market landmark store. The largest location in the country at 80,000 square feet, this Austin store features several dine-in eateries, an incredible variety of fresh meat and produce, and an expanded lifestyle section. Growing within Whole Foods Market, Bellah is now a recipe specialist for the Southwest region. In this role, he develops healthy recipes with nutritious ingredients that have the tastiness the masses love. Bellah experiments with different flavor combinations, foods, and seasonal ingredients. Naming the seasons as his primary inspiration along with locally sourced products, Bellah creates recipes that are unique to the Southwest. True to his style, Bellah's gazpacho recipe is a delicious way to utilize the abundance of tomatoes at local farmers' markets and in backyard gardens this summer.
"I consider natural cooking to be my favorite 'technique,'" says Bellah, "I love to cook with artisanal cheeses, local produce, and grass-fed meats. The flavor and the goodness of the product cannot be beat!"
Getting to Know Robert – Q/ALe Cordon Bleu Alumnus Robert Bellah Proves it's Never Too Late to Pursue Your Passion
When did you realize cooking was your passion and how were you inspired to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu?
When I was in fifth grade, I designed my first restaurant―a steakhouse called "A Touch of Class." The twist to the restaurant was that it was in a converted jail! I developed a menu with items like "The Prison Break" (rib eye with a fried egg; the egg broke out of its prison), jailhouse potatoes and carrots sautéed in butter. I had a passion for developing recipes from a young age; however, as with all good dreams, life got in the way. I moved to Austin after graduation from Texas Tech University to work for a publishing firm. After eight stressful years with the firm, I was released. I went to Le Cordon Bleu that same day and registered. I have been doing work I love ever since!
What career goals have you accomplished since graduating from Le Cordon Bleu?
Career goals – I am living it! I started at Whole Foods as a salad bar supervisor and was able to use a lot of culinary creativity while developing the menu for the new store. I have advanced within Whole Foods, and each job has been the fulfillment of my culinary dream.
What do you do in your current position?
My job allows me to work with a team to develop recipes for 20 Whole Foods Market stores in the Southwest. Our focus is on healthy eating. My job is to develop recipes with the most nutritious ingredients and still maintain great taste.
What has your involvement with Le Cordon Bleu been like following graduation?
I currently serve as the president of the Austin chapter of the Le Cordon Bleu Alumni Association. We're in the process of really developing our chapter. We get together to volunteer at Ronald McDonald House and host networking and social events. I've also been lucky to be able to speak at several commencement ceremonies to talk to new graduates about success in the culinary industry.
What foundational technique from Le Cordon Bleu do you consider to be indispensable?
During my externship at the Marriott Horseshoe Bay Resort, I was in charge of preparing and presenting the cold foods as their garde manger. The externship combined all of the foundational skills I had learned with the art of presentation and introduced me to the concept that even the least loved food items can be prepared, cooked, presented and eaten – and still be good!
What is your favorite flavor combination?
It depends on the season. Over the winter, I was really into chocolate and coffee. I made a coffee-encrusted hanger steak with a mild chocolate sauce that was incredible. I am currently playing with using shallots and white wine for a risotto recipe.
What do you see as a trend in cooking techniques?
If "natural" could be considered a technique, then that would be my answer! I love artisanal cheeses, local produce and grass-fed meats. The flavor and the goodness of the product cannot be beat!
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a culinary career?
Follow your dream. If you have a passion for being creative in the kitchen, trying new things, failing occasionally, but learning from it, then this is for you.
4 or 5 ripe golden, orange, and Early Girl tomatoes
3 cups veggie broth
1/4 cup of red onion, minced
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
Juice of 1 lime or 2 small limes
Kosher salt (to taste)
Cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh minced green onion include the greens
1. Peel the tomatoes and gently remove their seeds. Dice the tomatoes and place it in a large bowl, keeping it in chunks.
2. Stir in the stock, onion, garlic and lime juice.
3. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper.
4. Fold in the avocado and chill the soup for at least half hour.
5. Remove the soup from the refrigerator, ladle into soup bowls, and top each serving with a generous tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of green onions.
Serves 4 – 6
Recipe courtesy of Chef Robert Bellah
Career success will depend largely on the effort put into studies, job search efforts, experience and attitude. Le Cordon Bleu does not and cannot guarantee employment, and the experience of the alumni is not representative of all students.