When Daniel Traster ’94 came to Yale, he thought he would make his living in theater. But some time during his four years here he found himself abandoning the stage for the kitchen.
Traster pursued this passion for cooking for almost a decade, and last month was appointed dean of culinary arts at the prestigious Art Institute of Washington D.C.
At Yale, Traster was active in the theater community, both directing and writing plays. At the time, cooking was only an extracurricular activity for him; he prepared meals for Masters’ Teas at his residential college, Silliman, and for the secret society Manuscript. During his senior year, Traster was a freshman counselor.
“He was somebody that I had a lot of confidence in; he was my head freshman counselor that year,” Silliman Dean Hugh Flick said. “He’s incredibly reliable — just an all-around good freshman counselor, good student and good member of the community.”
Traster was full of praise for his time at Yale.
“Yale was the best time of my life,” Traster said. “Not only did I make wonderful friends, but I learned how to learn. My English and theater training took me further than I ever thought possible in a somewhat unrelated theater, as I developed strong emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills that have helped me as a teacher and as a manager.”
After graduating with a BA in theater arts and English, Traster said, he found himself uncertain about what career path he wanted to pursue. He said he found that he preferred working with his hands to sitting in front of a computer, and was unsure that a career in an english-related field or playwriting would suit his inclination. Encouraged by a mentor to follow his passion for cooking, Traster enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.
Upon graduation from the Culinary Institute, Traster served in a variety of culinary roles, from work at such prominent restaurants as the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia and Provence Restaurant in the District to a position as a personal chef at American University.
From there, Traster decided to take his career in a slightly different direction, toward the educational side of the culinary world.
“Helping people develop their own skills, both culinary and general professional, is exceptionally rewarding. I have the opportunity to help others succeed and meet their untapped potential. It’s great, too, to have the chance to meet young chefs before they become so famous that I can’t afford to eat in their restaurant,” he said.
Traster took a teaching position at Stratford University in Virginia, where he remained until this year, when he was offered his current job at the Art Institute.
In addition to serving as dean of the Art Institute, Traster writes articles for two industry publications and serves on several boards, including the National Capital Chefs’ Association.
“As a chef, he’s very knowledgeable, very professional. As a dean he’s very organized and gives people the tools they need to get things done. He’s a good person; I enjoy his company. I can’t say enough about him,” said Jack Batten, president of the association.
Traster is involved with his community in many ways outside of his office. The second weekend in October, Traster judged a culinary competition and taught children about making trail mix and the principles of nutrition. In his spare time, he also volunteers at D.C. Central Kitchen, a training facility for unemployed and homeless adults seeking jobs in the food service industry.
Traster said there are still areas of his trade he would like to explore.
“I hope to continue in education for many years. However, I’d like to also continue writing — I’d love to create some larger works that go beyond your traditional recipe cookbook.”
Traster said that in the future, he hopes to write a cookbook that teaches people the fundamentals of the art.
Although Traster has fully immersed himself in the culinary world, his theater training at Yale did not go to waste — he said he still finds time to write the occasional play.