A 2008 graduate of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, Hans Brueckner recently turned a hobby into a career. Upon graduating, Brueckner tried his hand at computer engineering but soon learned it wasn’t for him.
After cooking many delicious meals for the family, Brueckner’s mom suggested culinary school. In addition to the normal challenges of completing the culinary arts program at First Coast Technical College (FCTC), Brueckner had to adapt to being deaf in a classroom full of hearing students. Through perseverence, hard work and the encouragement of FCTC instructors, Brueckner completed his training and is now working at the Conch House, a gourmet Caribbean-themed restaurant in St. Augustine.
Jason Antal, who is also a deaf student at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and the 2014 valedictorian of the Deaf School caught up with Brueckner to find out how he succeeded in following his dream.
Jason Antal: When did you first know that going into the culinary arts was something you wanted to do?
Hans Brueckner: I always enjoyed cooking, but it was my mom who encouraged me to look into the program at FCTC. Cooking was not my first choice of careers. Right after high school, I went to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. I enrolled in the computer engineering program and completed two and a half years before coming to the realization that this field of study was not for me. I withdrew from NTID and took a break from school. During that break, I cooked at home for my parents, just making dinners, and they enjoyed my cooking very much. That was what led me toward culinary arts.
JA: What was your biggest challenge at FCTC?
HB: Being deaf in a classroom full of hearing students was the biggest challenge, but FCTC was accommodating and all of the chefs and teachers helped and encouraged me. I really enjoyed my classes at FCTC.
JA: What exactly was involved in the culinary arts certification you received? Did you just have to cook a lot, or was there more to it?
HB: Yes, I did have to cook a lot; it is a hands-on program. However, there is more to it than just cooking. The FCTC program is a 1200-hour course in the classroom and the kitchen and it takes 12 months to complete the program. Part of the program includes working in FCTC’s Walter Reef Restaurant. With each new segment we learned in the classroom, we would then experience the skill or knowledge in the kitchen or restaurant. It was very involved and hands-on. I was in the classroom from 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. Monday through Thursday for 12 months. Incidentally, I have more than just my Culinary Arts Certification. I also hold certifications in nutrition, sanitation, inventory and purchasing, associate dining room professional and other areas.
JA: How did you get your job at the Conch House?
HB: I applied for a position they had available, and they hired me. I was lucky they hired me with no experience other than what I learned working at the FCTC restaurant. I had no previous experience working as a chef. In fact, the Conch House is my very first job. Working at the Conch House helps me gain the experience needed to acquire more American Culinary Federation certifications. I am currently a Certified Culinarian.
JA: What’s it like working at the Conch House? Are there challenges as a deaf chef?
HB: Being deaf is always going to be a challenge. The important thing is how you present yourself to the world. My colleagues at the Conch House have been nice, and some are learning sign language to communicate better with me. I’ve learned so much about lip reading, and I’m still learning!
JA: What are your plans for the future?
HB: I hope to one day become a chef on the Food Network or one of the other cooking shows.
JA: What advice do you have for FSDB students?
HB: Always do the best you can! Have a good attitude, because that will encourage others to work with you. Be open to hearing people. It’s not their fault that they do not understand sign language. Teach the people around you how to communicate with you. But the most important advice I can share is: learn to read well. Work hard on your reading skills because everything around you at work depends on that one skill.
JA: As you look back at FSDB, what is your favorite memory?
HB: The friends I made there. They are great, and we still keep in touch.
Antal will join the freshman class at Gallaudet University this fall. Last spring, he was honored as the Most Outstanding Player at the Gallaudet University Academic Bowl national competition held in Washington, DC.
(Article courtesy of the St. Augustine Record 07/31/2014)
The staff and faculty of FCTC are so proud of you Hans Brueckner. We wish you continued success in all of your endeavors.