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‘Iron Chef’ vet talks careers at St. John’s

A world-renowned chef and Manhattan restaurant owner who was in “The Next Iron Chef” show recently kicked off St. John’s University’s career week by encouraging students to follow their dreams and making them drool with a culinary lesson.

“Doing what you love can be hard work, but it’s worth it,” Jehangir Mehta told dozens of St. John’s students at the school’s Sept. 29 internship fair. “Always go after what you want in life.”

Mehta, who grew up in India and owns the restaurants Graffiti in the East Village and Mehtaphor´╗┐ in Tribeca, was the second-to-last cook to make it on “The Next Iron Chef,” a Food Network show on which chefs battle each other to produce a winning recipe.

“It was a pretty grueling experience, and we did six shows in L.A. and another two in Tokyo,” Mehta said. “But I’m so happy I did it, especially when I know I defeated almost all of them, except the last one.”

Mehta spoke at St. John’s launch of Career Week, which included internship, job fairs and seminars on perfecting interviewing techniques and exploring different careers.

April Merenda, assistant to the dean of external affairs at St. John’s, said she was thrilled that Mehta had agreed to speak with students last week.

“It was inspiring, listening to him talk about following your dreams, your passion,” Merenda said.

Merenda noted that she, too, was pleased with the recipe for thyme roasted potatoes Mehta handed out to event participants.

“The poorest in the poorest countries eat potatoes and the very rich, if you ask them if they love potatoes, they will say yes,” Mehta said. “It’s humbling to know that everyone loves them.”

Mehta added that the cumin and coriander seeds were particularly good seasoning for the winter.

“They give a sense of warmth in the colder months,” he said.

Many of the students who went to see Mehta were majoring in hospital management and said it was inspiring to meet such a success story in the world they hope to inhabit.

“I’d like to open up my own restaurant like him someday,” said Christopher Lodge, a senior majoring in hospitality management who helped show Mehta around St. John’s. “It was a great opportunity meeting him and getting to make him feel at home. I love doing that, interacting with people and with guests.”

More than 100 companies participated in the Sept. 29 internship fair, which Denise Hopkins, executive director of the career center at St. John’s, said she hoped would allow students to pursue their interests that could lead to jobs after graduation.

“In this economy, career development is more important than ever,” Hopkins said. “It really starts as soon as the freshmen step onto the campus. We encourage them to get internships in the summer before their sophomore year.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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