For the love of cooking

Alumnus Leslie Jett’s love of food guided him to become a professional chef, a talent he now shares with Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity
Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:16 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Leslie Jett’s love for cooking started when he was young, watching his mother make wedding cakes, “which turned into wedding dinners, political gatherings and other events.” His family spent time together on weekends catering events held near their hometown of Rover.

Initially, when he came to MU as an undergraduate, the then 19-year-old Jett wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher. That all changed on the Thursday night before Thanksgiving break during his freshman year. His friends went out to a party while Jett spent the night in the Alpha Gamma Rho kitchen attempting to make his mother’s cinnamon rolls.

“There is something called the ‘people factor,’” Jett explained, “which means that you can give your recipe out to everyone, but it will never turn out just how you make it.”

When his cinnamon rolls turned out just like his mother’s, defying the “people factor,” he knew that he wanted to continue the family tradition of working with food.

After Thanksgiving break, Jett returned to MU with the hope of some day studying culinary arts. Three weeks later, he changed his major to hotel and restaurant management.

Not only did his encounter with the cinnamon rolls start Jett’s passion for cooking, it also seemed to begin his love affair with desserts and baking, which are his favorite things to make.

At this point, Jett is doing what he wants to be doing, but it took a lot of work to get there. As an undergraduate at MU, Jett was a member of the Theta chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho. In 1999, he earned his bachelor of science degree in hotel and restaurant management and in general agriculture.

From there Jett continued on to Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., which, he said, “is one of the campuses that make up the largest food services educator in the world.” There he received his associate’s degree of applied sciences in culinary arts in February 2001, while also working on his master’s degree in career and technical education at MU, which he completed in August of 2001.

“To do what I want to do, you can’t just get a degree and start, there are a lot of other tests and certifications along the way,” said Jett. So, while also in school, he earned his executive chef certificate in January of 2003 through the American Culinary Federation, “which is very prestigious,” Jett said.

As a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, Jett was the house director coordinator. “I served as a liaison between the chapter and house mother, reviewed the menus and made changes if they were needed,” he said. “When the house director at the time passed away during my freshman year, the fraternity went through a few different house directors, so I helped out. I learned a lot and really enjoyed it.”

Now Jett is back at MU, working on his Ph.D. in agricultural education and serving as the house director for the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. Jett not only makes sure the house runs efficiently, he also plans and prepares meals for the men.

“Leslie is a really awesome cook. Since he is a professional chef, the food is always great around here. We consider it the best on campus,” said freshman Robert Powell.

Jett also enjoys cooking when the men host sororities for dinner. Powell said, “Whenever we have socials he always fixes us nice dinners; he really rolls out the red carpet.”

“It is a lot of fun to live and work there,” Jett said. “I have a lot of freedom to play in the kitchen!” Since the Alpha Gamma Rho house was recently rebuilt, Jett was able to make a few special requests. “I got to pick out the equipment, floor plan and had the tables altered to be 6 inches taller than the average commercial work surface so I don’t have to stoop over to work. It is hard to work for 10 hours a day if you have to stoop! “ he said.

This semester, Jett has taken a step toward his goal of teaching culinary arts and food science, with his first class, Principles of Food Preparation. This class, Jett explains, “starts with boiling water and ends with making things like cakes and pastries. We have classes that cover everything from meat and veggies to cakes and pies.”

In the future, Jett would like to own his own restaurant, but for now he is happy living and working with the men of Alpha Gamma Rho and students at MU.

The men of Alpha Gamma Rho are very happy to have him. “He is a really nice guy,” Powell said. “He really tries to take care of us and keep us out of trouble.”

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