Jonathan Deutsch found his calling at 14 when he learned to cook. During high school, he cooked for his family’s summer camp for those with disabilities, an experience which foreshadowed the importance of food in shaping hospitality.
That importance shaped a career that led Deutsch to his current title as professor, Center for Food and Hospitality Management and Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Deutsch’s parents were not so enthusiastic about his ambitions, but went along if he earned a college degree. He did, from the Culinary Institute of America in 1997. He received a B.S. in hospitality management at Drexel in 1999 and a doctorate in food studies and food management from New York University in 2004.
“Those formative experiences in both culinary and academia I kept separate,” says the Scranton, Pennsylvania native. “Now I’m really enjoying their combination, teaching, researching and writing about food service management, product development and social and cultural aspects of food and hospitality.”
At Drexel, Deutsch teaches courses in food service, hospitality management and culinary arts. He writes a weekly column in Restaurant Business magazine. “Lately, I’ve been working in the area of reducing food waste and improving health through culinary innovation and product development,” he says.
The world of academia creates a seasonal flow and constant change. Drexel works on quarters, with a new schedule every 12 weeks—a new group of students, new assignments and research projects.
“It can be challenging, but is great for people like me who have varied interests and short attention spans,” says Deutsch, who plays the tuba.
While Deutsch seems removed from the casino world, he’s not. Casino resorts are a microcosm of the hospitality industry, he says. “Leisure tourism, meetings and conventions, F&B, rooms, spa, retail, gaming, entertainment and attractions all convene under one roof. I can’t think of any other facet of the industry where that is as clearly visible,” says Deutsch, who met his wife Molly in the culinary end, where he cooked and she served in a restaurant.
Deutsch credits two figures from the Atlantic City gaming industry as mentors: Bob Ambrose, a colleague at Drexel, and Alyce Parker, a Drexel board member. “They really took me under their wings to introduce me to everyone I needed to know,” he says.
Also, Stuart Schulman, who served as Deutsch’s first department head in academia at the City University of New York. “He continues to be a great mentor,” Deutsch says. “I still send him papers to read for feedback before I click ‘submit.’”
These relationships inform his view of the hospitality experience—the bars and restaurants, the people-watching, sitting by the pool, hearing live music or taking in a show. “I think too often food is thought of as a ‘must have’ revenue center, not a leader in shaping the experience,” he says. “When I vacation, the first thing I do is choose a hotel and the second thing is make dinner reservations. The rest—gaming, retail, attractions—follow.”
Based on his own pathway, Deutsch offers young people this advice: “Say yes to everything at first—opportunities, seminars, programs, volunteering, jobs. Then you can edit.”