As her high school days at Winton Woods drew to a close, Kami Little already knew what came next. Always at the top of her class, she'd scored a full ride to the University of Cincinnati and wanted to major in either architecture or economics.
A year later, after also deciding to major in public relations, Little quit school. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do and knew UC wasn't the right place for her at the time.
Little ended up working part-time at Procter and Gamble while getting her Associate's Degree of Applied Business at Cincinnati State. When she graduated she went full-time at P&G. She was comfortable there and she was making good money. Once a week she'd organize what she called Fun Friday Food Fests and bring in homemade treats — maybe a Turtle Brownie Cheesecake or a Peanut Butter Pie — to share.
But when Little graduated, she decided not to do the cap and gown thing with her class.
"You can only walk once," she says. "So I had to wait so that it would mean something."
After two years at P&G, Little again found herself bailing. With the money she'd saved up — and she would be saving even more by moving back in with her mother — she was going to continue at Cincinnati State in the field she'd finally realized was the one for her.
And so, in June 2003, Little will graduate with three more associates degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel & Restaurant Management.
She's like a lot of college students as far as juggling her schedule goes. When we meet to talk over a root beer, she informs me that she can't talk long — it's the Jewish holiday season and Little makes pastries at Just Desserts in Silverton three days a week. Today her schedule is full of challah, honey cakes and apple-shaped sugar cookies.
When I ask why it took her a while to realize what she wanted to do, she answers immediately, "I've always been at the top of my class and I thought being in the kitchen was just a waste. Then I realized it was like Einstein being an opera singer — I was contributing something, but not as much as I could."
She blames her image of restaurant work.
"I had a mental image of sweaty guys in a hot kitchen making $6 an hour," she says, "and I didn't want that."
What Little, 25, wants is to run the kitchen. She doesn't want to be stuck bringing other people's creations to life. Her multitude of degrees should make her dream easier to achieve, especially with her business background. Her past work experience doesn't hurt, either.
"I learned how to work as part of a team, which we do in the kitchen, work under time constraints and a lot about customer service," she says.
Little's small amount of free time is filled with activities. She's the "pastry person" on Cincinnati State's 2002 Culinary Team. As part of the six-person team she participates in international competitions, this year in Ukraine and Singapore.
"We're hoping to make it to the 2004 Culinary Olympics," she says.
On the weekends she spends time with her rather large family, which includes Sunday mornings at New Saint John Baptist Church. She cooks there, too, as part of their Saturday brunch for the homeless at Tender Mercies in Over-the-Rhine.
Cooking really is her love, and her face lights up when she talks about it. According to Little, when it's good, it's really good.
"I'm like somebody with a newborn baby," she says. "It's like creating a work of art. I have had more failures than successes in the kitchen, but I learn something every time."
Little isn't exactly sure where she'll end up when she graduates. She's in no hurry to leave Cincinnati but says she loves New York City. She's interested in everything from having her own bed & breakfast to event planning and catering for a large hotel.
She is sure of at least one thing: The kitchen is the right place for her.
"There's nothing else I could do and be on my feet for 12 hours and have fun," she says. ©