RETURNING HOME This is the final story in a series that ran over the last few months on veterans training in the food industry.
Jonathan White earned the nickname “crobot” at his part-time job at Finesse Pastries in Manchester, N.H., because he can produce 200 croissants in five hours — a task he is given 12 hours to complete. “I want to perfect everything I do,” says White. “People see it as being an overachiever. I see it as being the typical Marine personality.”
After 11 years of active duty in the US Marine Corps, White is now a student at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, in a yearlong professional pastry program, which he began in January. The culinary school is covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides funding for veterans and their family members at universities and other training programs. The program costs about $30,000, which is paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs. White also receives a $2,200 monthly allowance to house his family of six.
White, 29, a Pembroke, N.H., native, started his culinary education last summer at The Art Institute of Washington, while living in Quantico, Va. A commercial for the school sparked his interest, so he decided to test the skills he learned cooking for his family. Finding kitchen conventions similar to a military environment, White knew he made the right choice. “It felt more like home as far as everything I have ever known,” says White, “which is pretty much the Marine Corps.”
After graduating from Pembroke Academy, a public high school in his hometown, White joined the Marines at 17 in 2002. Without the money or initiative to go to college, he decided that work or the military were his options. With the reputation of the Marine Corps, as he describes it, “to be the best,” he decided on that branch.
He started as a tank mechanic, then deployed to Iraq with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It got down and dirty real fast,” White says. They were hit by mortars arriving at their base and for the five-month deployment the unit was under constant attack. White says he maintained his duties as a mechanic regardless of the environment.
After returning to the States in 2005, he went from group armorer to senior fire desk operator, stationed in Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia. One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, he met his wife, Kim, a fellow Marine. Four kids later, he decided to exit into the Inactive Ready Reserve. He saw the Marines turning into a softer, kinder branch. Kim soon was honorably discharged.
They moved to Pembroke to be near family. White decided on CSCA because a baking and pastry instructor at The Art Institute, Yasmine Sandhu, whom he admired, was a grad of the Cambridge school. Sandhu’s class also exposed him to the precision and science of pastrymaking, candy, and other confections. “People love pastry chefs because they got the goods,” says White.
Training with French-born pastry chef Delphin Gomes, who directs the CSCA pastry program, has been a highlight for the veteran. White, who also works with Gomes at Finesse, enjoys watching the seasoned chef in his element. “To be able to be taught by him and then work with him is huge,” says White. “It sounds corny but in the pastry world no one can really touch him.”
After he receives his diploma, White is considering opening a small shop, where his kids can grow up learning the business. “I would love to change the world one tasty treat at a time,” says the veteran.Alexa McMahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.