“In the span of a few years I went from being an engineer, going to culinary school, working for a year, and then owning a restaurant six months later.” These are the words of David Smart, owner of Wolfville’s Front and Central restaurant. Many students begin university with a distinct plan in mind, an idea of the job we will have, where we will be living, and the kind of person we will be once we graduate. However, many of us who have shifted from our strategic plans find ourselves on a completely different path than where we started. Chef David Smart is a prime example. Smart developed his passion for food through cooking weekly dinners for friends and eventually decided to pursue it by going to culinary school. “My friends told me ‘why not?’” He says they explained, “Whenever you talk about food you sit forward and you’re all excited, when you talk about engineering you are.. not quite as excited.” This is clear now—Smart is leaning forward and animated when sharing his story, and his excitement is pretty infectious.
Another shift in plans came when Smart returned to his home province of Nova Scotia intending to travel and work as a chef around the world. Instead, he ended up working at the Tempest restaurant in Wolfville, and when the owner offered him the opportunity to take over the restaurant, Smart took the leap. “I had the maturity, I had the resources, I had the drive… so it was a good fit” he says of his decision.
The last couple years, it seems, have been a whirlwind for Smart. In his words, “Everything sort of just fell into place.” I am sure Smart has gotten this question many times, but I had to ask, how did he go from being an engineer to a chef and restaurant owner in such a short time? Chefs often work for years to gain experience and build their skill set. But Smart sees his years as an engineer as an advantage. Dave uses a simple analogy to explain himself: “I had a toolbox that said ‘Dave Smart Engineer Project Manager’ and I took it off and replaced it with one that said ‘Restraunteur/Chef’. The tools are exactly the same, they’re just used in a different context.” Perhaps going to university, albeit valuable, is more about the skills you learn and develop there, and less about your degree. How you decide to apply what you learn is up to you.
At Front and Central Smart’s science background is reflected in the unique and ever-changing menu. Smart refers to his dishes as “formulas” that he changes the ingredients to, being sure to reflect what is in season. Part of the formula is Smart’s sense of fun; he sees his restaurant as a local hangout that everyone can enjoy. “I want to get rid of the ‘fine dining’ ilk around the restaurant,” he says, “I see it as a comfortable place that you can just pop in, you’ve got your jeans on and your hoodie, and you’re just as comfortable there as the person who came in after their business meeting and they have their shirt and tie on.”
So should we forget our study and career plans, the goals and dreams which got us to university in the first place? Smart’s journey from being an engineer to a restaurant-owner in a vibrant university town teaches us the answer is yes and no. Realize that the skills you learn will be useful tools for you in the future, if you keep your passion Front and Central.