As a child, Bryan Jacobs spent the summers with his grandparents, spending most of his spare time in the kitchen. “While most kids were making mud pies, I was making roast beef,” he recalls.
Jacobs, currently a senior in the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, began his culinary exploits at the age of 8 alongside his grandfather, a World War II chef. For the past two years, he has held jobs as a personal chef for two high profile clients: both former president George W. Bush and the Anheuser-Busch family (no relation).
This heady job experience came about after Jacobs began cooking at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, Florida, where, after working his way through the tiers of training, he was promoted to sous chef at the Pink Elephant. The Anheuser-Busch clan eats regularly at the popular restaurant and they became acquainted. Through conversations, the Anheuser-Busches learned of Jacobs’ experience as a combat veteran and his difficult re-entry into civilian life.
Jacobs followed his grandfather’s footsteps into the military. After service as a Marine Corps paramedic in both
Iraq and Afghanistan, he returned to the United States but found the readjustment very stressful. He became homeless, lived in his car and worked as a personal trainer, all while struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “As a lot of vets often do, you lose your focus,” said Jacobs. “You’re so used to being told what to do and how to do it that it becomes hard to fold back into society.”
Jacobs cycled through 16 jobs and knew something had to change. The turning point came when he was sitting on a park bench and someone mentioned to him, “You need to get your life together”. He began staying with a friend and upon seeing a TV commercial for culinary school, realized becoming a chef was his calling.
Cooking turned Jacobs’ life around, and meeting the Anheuser-Busches brought out his best. “I would always go the extra mile, especially for them, because of how pleasant, nice and grateful they were towards me being a veteran,” said Jacobs. “I put in my notice to Gasparilla Inn to return to school and pursue my degree at USF Sarasota-Manatee. When the family learned of my resignation, they sent someone to speak to me about becoming the family’s private chef, and the rest is history!”
Through his position with the Anheuser-Busch family, Jacobs met many distinguished guests, including 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush. After speaking at a dinner party hosted in his honor, President Bush offered Jacobs a job to serve as a personal chef for the Bush family in addition to his other catering responsibilities. This turned out to be a wonderful relationship, including opportunities to cook side-by-side with family members such as matriarch Barbara Bush. “The Anheuser-Busch family allows me to attend school, better myself and they understand that my education comes first, even before working for them,” explained Jacobs. “They’re flexible with my school schedule and fly me wherever they need me to be.”
A typical day for this multi-tasking student/chef begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends around 11:30 p.m., not including homework and school projects. Occasionally, Jacobs must coordinate with professors about homework or exams to guarantee he does not miss materials while he is preparing for a catering event on the same day. He has many clients now and creates custom seasonal menus and shops for ingredients before preparing the meals from scratch in their homes.
In addition to acting as a personal chef for both the Anheuser-Busch and Bush families, Jacobs is very active in a new pilot program just underway at the USFSM Culinary Innovation Lab in Lakewood Ranch. Via a van donated by restaurateur and businessman Burton M. “Skip” Sack, Jacobs transports veterans to a culinary “boot camp” specially designed for them to gain kitchen skills that will get them hired in local restaurants. The purpose of the program is to bridge the gap between what students learn in culinary schools and real world techniques used in restaurants day-to-day. Jacobs is hoping to develop sponsorships with restaurants and others in the community to make veterans job-ready.
Bryan Jacobs wants all vets to taste the success he has found in the hospitality field.