Alumni Spotlight Archive
Kim Leali of Chicago changes career directions for a taste of happiness
Kim Leali, a resident of Chicago, graduated from Triton College in 2006, with a certificate in culinary arts. Leali has recently taken on a new position as the executive sous chef assisting the chef de cuisine at the soon-to-open Nico Osteria restaurant in Chicago. Her current role includes developing menu options, staff training and providing support to other sous chefs to do whatever is needed to ensure a successful start-up and everyday satisfaction for customers. Prior to Nico Osteria, Leali was a sous chef at The Publican Restaurant in Chicago.
In 1995, Leali earned her first degree, a B.S. in family community services from Michigan State University. After graduating, she was employed as a social worker and often thought about changing the direction of her career to attend culinary school but decided against it due to financial obligations. In 1998, Leali moved to Portland, Ore., and became a mortgage banker. A few years later, she relocated to Chicago and in 2005, maintaining a strong passion for preparing great food and having the resources to return to college, she began taking culinary classes at Triton.
Leali completed an internship at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago in 2006 and stayed on for another two and a half years before meeting Chef Paul Kahan, whose cooking she loved. Kahan was preparing to open The Publican and hired Leali as one of the opening line cooks. After a year and a half, she was promoted to sous chef in charge of the charcuterie program and weekend brunches.
Leali has received the Travel+Leisure Top Ten Brunch in the Country 2011-2012 award and was recognized for Best Brunch in Chicago by “New City Magazine” (Chicago) in 2012.
What have been some obstacles you've had to overcome in pursuit of your educational and career goals?
I moved pretty quickly in my current profession. I don't know if I would've had the same focus and drive that I had in 2005 to excel in my career.
What or who has served as a source of inspiration in either your career, personal life or both?
My former chef at the Four Seasons, Lila Kulikowski, has been a great mentor as well as my current boss, chef Paul Kahan, who pushed me to do bigger and better things. My aunt has also been an extremely supportive cheerleader – always in my corner.
What would you consider your strong suit to be – whether skills or qualities?
I think as a manager, I'm patient and not afraid to get my hands dirty. I try and mentor staff members – leading by example. There's no job that is beneath me. In the culinary world, there's always something new to learn.
How has Triton College impacted your life?
Triton College gave me the flexibility to work full-time and change my career. Also, the cost to attend is much more affordable than the private trade schools.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to pursue a career in your field?
Don't be afraid to work hard. You will advance with time and perseverance, and you have to enjoy cooking, especially for those who aren't your loved ones. If you find a good chef to work under, give at least two years of your time to hone your skills.
What are your words of wisdom for current Triton students?
Do what you love. I spend an average of 60-80 hours/week at my job. It's difficult to be away from family and friends in my current profession but I love what I do, which makes the time pass by quickly. Find a mentor – someone who you respect to learn more about what you want out of your career. Lastly, always try your best.
What are your plans for the future?
First and foremost, get Nico Osteria up and running! I want it to be very successful! After that, I'm not sure. I may want to teach down the line but that's a ways off.
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