John Bird Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s Culinary Operations Manager: A walk on the wild side
John Bird, the Culinary Operations Manager at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, makes his walk through life a little more interesting with his cool sneakers. He has no shame in stating that he owns dozens and dozens of sneakers, including the popular Air Jordan – both the retro and classic pairs. In fact, he said if sneakers were $9.99 a pair, he would have a much larger collection!
When he joined the Denver crew in January of 2013 for the annual National Western Stock Show, John added to his shoe collection, but not with a pair or two of sneakers, but cowboy boots. The first-timer shared that working the Stock Show was definitely an eye-opening experience as he recalled cooking 700 filets on outside grills while it was snowing as well as plating 700 extraordinary dinners that evening. However, he still wants to return to the mile-high city to work future shows.
John’s work background
“I worked pretty much in the food industry since my first job in high school,” John said. “I realized it was something I enjoyed, and if I enjoyed it, I decided I had better go and get an education.”
John’s first job was at Cincinnati’s King’s Island, where he worked picnic events at one of the largest amusement parks and water parks in the Midwest. He eventually was promoted to managing the catering kitchen where thousands of burgers, hot dogs and other picnic-type food was produced for the popular all-you-can-eat menus. In the off seasons, John would work evening shifts at area country club restaurants. At one point, he managed the kitchen at a local TGIFriday’s.
John honed his culinary skills by attending the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, which is a national center of educational excellence in the culinary and pastry arts and hospitality technologies.
After spending six years at the Cincinnati Zoo in its culinary department, John was offered the opportunity to learn more about managing the operations side of this business at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. He said he accepted the new position because it was time to get serious about his career. Even though it was his first time not living in the Cincinnati area, the 25-year-old has quickly adapted. To help with the transition, John adopted a dog from the local shelter. His family has always had dogs as pets, but this mixed breed is the first that he can call his own. To strengthen the bond, John even changed the dog’s name from Ada to Ella as he thought that name was a better fit for the dog’s personality.
When John is not working, he likes to spend his time outside. You can find him biking on local trails, grilling tasty meals for friends, camping in nearby parks or golfing on nearby courses – anything to be outdoors. And talking about golfing, John said that he has some good days, but mostly bad days while swinging the clubs on the course. He did add that he’s better than a certain SSA east coast vice president that occasionally comes to plays.
Also in his free time, John likes to watch Game of Thrones, an epic fantasy HBO television drama series. He said he’s attracted to this program because it explores the issues of social hierarchy, religion, civil war, sexuality, crime and punishment in an entertaining, yet thought-provoking manner. This creative philosophical streak also extends to his selection of reading materials. His goal this year is to finish reading the 1974 bestseller Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. John said he has started the book that describes a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son twice, but he hopes the third time is the charm, and that he finally finishes it. John also reads the quarterly magazine, Lucky Peach. He enjoys and appreciates how the editors emphasize a single theme through essays, art, photography and recipes. He said the magazine appeals to his creative nature.
His father and mother still live in Cincinnati, so John regularly makes the three-hour trip to see them as well as partake in what the river-front city offers. His older sister lives in Washington D.C. where she’s earning an advanced degree in education.
Like most native Cincinnatians, John is a fan of Skyline Chili, a chain of chili restaurants founded in 1949. John explained that Skyline chili is unique in that it is not chili con carne, but is a sauce usually used over spaghetti or hot dogs, and it contains a unique spice blend that gives it a very distinct taste. One of his favorite menu items is the signature dish: a cheese coney, which is a hot dog topped with Skyline Chili, mustard, onions and cheese. John likes the topping on spaghetti, too.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of his favorite childhood memories include going to the five times World Series champions Cincinnati Reds games with his father. They still attend games together.
While John has decided to pursue a culinary career, it wasn’t his first choice. While in high school, he considered a career in graphic design, but he lost interest when he realized a career in photography would pay the bills, and art school is expensive.
John laughingly shared that many would be surprised that he used to spray paint railroad cars when he was in high school. He would start with a squiggle on the car, and then added another, and another, until an artistic design accented the drabness of this chosen canvas. He quickly realized even though he was creating amazing pieces of art, it was illegal, and soon ended this artistic endeavor.
Today John expresses his creativity while creating culinary delights.