GREENVILLE — Growing up, Taste of Home Cooking School Culinary Specialist Eric Villegas had the opportunity to travel and experiment with new and unique foods, feeding his passion for the culinary arts.
“I can’t remember a time I wasn’t infatuated with food,” Villegas said.
Villegas did not eat what other children his age normally ate while he was growing up. Both of his parents are from South America, so he was exposed to a wide variety of food at a young age.
With his dad being a physician, Villegas said he was able to travel a lot with his father and try different restaurants along the way.
This led him to become very interested in restaurants, chefs and how things worked during his childhood years.
Villegas then began to take on cooking responsibilities at home, which broadened his culinary skills even more.
After graduating from Michigan State University, Villegas went on to attend culinary school at Ferris State University and attended Anne Willan’s LaVarenne Ecole de Cuisine and Steven Spurrier’s Academie du Vin in Paris, France.
“I take beverages just as seriously as the food,” Villegas said.
Eating a meal with proper beverage, whether it’s a beer, wine, water or whatever the food demands is ideal.
When it comes to what draws Villegas to his passion of cooking, he said it is a little bit everything from the technical art of cooking and creativity to the reactions from people.
“I love the conversation that comes with dining with people,” Villegas said.
The conversation in the kitchen is something he enjoys too, because he said it encourages people to talk to each other.
When it comes to his career, Villegas said he has a lot of memorable moments.
Such moments include hosting a local television show, writing an award-winning cookbook, being named Master of Ceremonies for the “Iron Chef” competition and appearing in Puerto Rico with Chef Emeril Lagasse.
“I have been extraordinarily fortunate in my career,” Villegas said.
“Fork in the Road” was about Villegas traveling to interesting and unique restaurants in Michigan and it aired on Public Broadcasting System stations for eight years.
Currently, Villegas is in the pre-production stages of a new show where he will explore interesting and unique restaurants and foods in all eight of the Great Lake states.
“It’s like ‘Fork in the Road’ 2.0,” he said. “We are broadening the scope.”
The Taste of Home experience has been an eye-opener and given Villegas opportunities as a professional to look at all aspects of cooking.
Villegas first learned about the Taste of Home Cooking School while attending a show in Flint to do a presentation. The staff asked him if he was staying for the main show, which he said he thought he was already a part of. After learning that he was not, he stayed to check out what the show was all about.
“I Googled it to find out more,” Villegas said. “It was all about passionate people who are passionate about food.”
Today, Villegas presents to groups as a consultant for Taste of Home Cooking School all over the entire country, including the Taste of Home Cooking School coming to Greenville at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Greenville Performing Arts Center.
“We selected (Villegas) based on his reputation,” said Lisa Boyd, advertising director for Stafford Media Solutions.
She said she worked with the Taste of Home team to select Villegas from the team of culinary specialists.
“(Villegas) seemed to have the personality we wanted for the event, a high-energy level to entertain the audience and he’s from Michigan,” Boyd said.
When it comes to his high-energy enthusiasm, Villegas said it all comes from his excited for food and what he does for his career.
“I truly love what I do and I am truly passionate about what I do,” he said. “I really love the opportunity for the Taste of Home Cooking School and getting people excited about it.”
Boyd said only a few tickets remain for the Taste of Home Cooking show.