Meet Professor Tim Banks in this Q＆A
Meet Tim Banks, associate professor and department chair for the Howard Community College (HCC) Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies. Banks came to HCC in 2018 with nearly 30 years of experience in the culinary and hospitality fields. We recently caught up with the former Texan to learn how crème brulee changed his life, why his diversified mindset helps students on their career path and how HCC’s program and the field have adapted since the pandemic.
Q: When did you become interested in the culinary arts?
A: I got my associate degree from West Virginia University, and I had all these aspirations of becoming a lawyer. But in 1992, while I was in Houston, I watched a program called the Great Chefs that used to come on PBS. One of the recipes was for crème brûlée. I watched the show and took notes as the process unfolded. Then I went to the store, bought all the ingredients, came home and made crème brûlée. I never had crème brûlée or anything exotic in my bubble at all, and I hated it. Still don't care for crème brûlée to this day, but I found the process of making it very relaxing, almost therapeutic.
That’s when I started to look for a cooking class. A friend of mine said, “Check out the community college. Usually they have classes.” I walked into Houston Community College, and immediately, I smelled food cooking and could hear the activity of the kitchen. It felt like I had found where I belonged. It quickly turned into, “What do I need to do to be here?” I enrolled, attending culinary school during the day while working in a hotel at night.
Q: How did your career progress after culinary school?
A: I went right into a culinary kitchen at a restaurant and nightclub. I was hired as a cook, but I ended up helping with a lot of the management duties, including organizing invoices and the schedule… It was just one of those things where had I not gone to school, I would not have known how to do it. That's why I'm always passionate about the educational aspect of culinary art. There’s value there.
Later, I worked as a line cook and expediter for Bennigan’s restaurant and a store opening manager for Boston Market in Texas. Then a hotel chain hired me as a sous chef to manage one of its new restaurants. Six months later, at age 28, I was promoted to executive chef at a sister property.
I had several other jobs, including working as a corporate catering manager, before joining San Jacinto College in 2009 as an adjunct professor for its new pastry program. Within three years, I became the program director. I stayed there until 2018, when I accepted my current job at HCC.
Q: What do you bring to the college as head of the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies?
A: A diversified mindset because of my experiences and working in other places. Sometimes you find yourself in a bubble of mindsets. I hope I’m changing the mindset so people see we produce managers here. There are more aspects to hospitality and culinary than what your perceived concept may be. If you think hospitality, you might think front desk. If you think culinary, you think something delicious to eat. If you think baking and pastry, you go to your favorite cookie or cupcake. You’re going to have an image associated with the work. But that’s just one facet of what we do.
I want to increase awareness that students have a variety of pathways. I’m proof of that. You don't have to just say, “I went to culinary school and have to be a cook.” You can go to culinary school and be an entrepreneur. Or, you can go the corporate route or continue your education and get a four-year degree in culinary management. Captain your ship so you know the direction that you want to go in. I’m helping students really capitalize on that potential.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: Howard Community College is a very warm and inviting environment. I feel connected to the students. That's why I like teaching the classes that I'm teaching – a supervision class and two internship classes. The supervision class gives me opportunity to teach students about the aspects of growing in the industry versus the application of the skill set. I really enjoy that. I get to paint the picture of success and what it can look like through management skills.
Q: What would people be surprised to know about the program?
A: Coming from the outside, they would never guess that our faculty is as well trained as they are, and that we use state-of-the-art equipment. An example is the chocolate tempering machine on the baking and pastry side. It is amazing piece of equipment... It’s a conveyor belt where the confections pass through the chocolate and come out ready to go – a contemporary way of using equipment that’s in the industry now. And then there’s our combination or “combi” oven. It steams, it bakes, it roasts, it sous vides, it holds temperature, all in one piece. It's just an excellent learning tool.
Q: What have you learned from you staff?
A: I have learned tenacity from Professor Rose. Hang on until you get what you want. From Chef Milburn, I’ve learned that quiet is extremely effective. He’s the most soft-spoken, gentle soul I think I’ve ever met. It’s a pleasure to just have conversations with him because he’s never above a whisper but very poignant. From Chef Eric, that again, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. He is very much an advocate of possibility.
Q: What have you learned from your students?
A: They share the same passion. They want to be here. They’re all goal-oriented and have specific desirable outcomes that they want from the program. It makes me want to go above and beyond what that expectation is so they have a lasting memorable experience in culinary school. I always tell them, “One day you’re going to hear my voice in your head saying this, and here’s why I said it. You will have that ‘aha’ moment, and you will share that with someone else. That is the torch you will pass.”
Q: How has HCC’s program and the field adapted since the pandemic?
A: HCC was proactive in choosing to move all courses with the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies to flexible online delivery. This was an extremely arduous task to delivery laboratory content virtually. Our instructors have gone above and beyond to ensure that students received practical, hands-on experience at home. Many students have continued to work as essential employees in a variety of outlets that have continued to offer modified food services, including manufacturing and delivery.
Q: What advice would you give someone entering the culinary field today?
A: My very best advice to remain flexible. The food and beverage industry is dynamic and continuing to evolve. As culinarians we have progressed with creativity and ingenuity since the dawn of time. The root meaning of “restaurant” is to “restore your health.” Since the 16th century, we have relied on food service as a beacon to provide wholesome meals to the public. If that is your passion, then there is no better time to choose culinary arts as a profession that is relevant to the changing times. A solid foundation in education defines our contemporary culinary leaders and beholds them to identify, uplift and cultivate the future of entrepreneurs, chefs, bakers and research and development. You can get there from here at Howard Community College.
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.