While many of us can attest to loving food, few rival Max Aronson in what is means to be a foodie. A sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration, Aronson has always been passionate about food and cooking, and has even appeared on the popular Food Network show Chopped. We chatted with Max to learn more about his passion for food, his favorite things to cook, and his hopes for the future.
How did you become interested in cooking?
I have loved cooking for as long as I can remember. My mom is a great cook, so I grew up helping her out in the kitchen whenever we had big family dinners. The first thing I ever helped make was a pot of mashed potatoes; I remember how I put way too much milk in them so they ended up being really wet and nasty, but I was little and so happy that I made something by myself, so I kept cooking and just learned more from there.
How did you get involved in the food and restaurant industry at such a young age? How did this evolve, and how did you end up on Chopped?
I went to a high school for culinary arts and hospitality administration, and that opened the doors for a lot of different experiences I’ve had. My first restaurant job was at a restaurant by me when I was 14 years old and I have worked in 5 kitchens since. Ending up on Chopped was really just because I was in the right place at the right time. I ran into the host of the show, Ted Allen, at baggage claim at the airport and struck a conversation with him. I told him about how much I love food and cooking, and I gave him my business card. A week later I got an email from casting telling me that they heard I might be interested and that I should apply. I interviewed and went through the application process, and ended up on the show!
What was your experience like on Chopped?
My first time on Chopped was a little scary. I didn’t know what to expect and I was definitely very nervous. It turned out to be a lot of fun, so when I was asked to return for a redemption episode, I was really excited. The second time around was much easier because I knew what to expect and I had gained a lot of experience in the year between episodes. I was much more confident, and because of that I was able to have an even better time competing. In the end, being on Chopped is a win-win situation; if I lose, I’m still on TV and there are so many opportunities that I could be exposed to, and if I win, I win Chopped and walk away with the prize and the experience.
You donated a portion of your winnings to an important cause. Can you tell us more about that?
In 2013, my baby cousin, Scarlett, was diagnosed with a pretty aggressive form of bone cancer. After a year being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering, she had no evidence of disease, and has had clean scans ever since. My family was incredibly grateful for the great care that MSK gave my cousin, and I wanted to do what I could do help other families have the same outcome as Scarlett.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I love experimenting with new recipes and I try to switch up what I make all the time, but I think my favorite food to make is eggplant parmesan. It was one of my favorite foods growing up, and I loved being able to recreate it with my grandmother’s recipe.
What do you see as your future/dream job?
Down the road, I want to create a hospitality group with my brother. I love the idea of creating a concept from nothing and building something from ground up. Hopefully, I will have a portfolio of restaurants of all kinds (fine dining, fast casual, etc.).
How have you continued your interest in cooking at Cornell?
I have used my time at Cornell to expand my interests in food and restaurant administration. I started to work in the front of house the first month of my freshman year, and have since worked in the dining room of Eleven Madison Park in NYC. My connections at Cornell gave me the opportunity to try out new aspects of working in restaurants, and I have loved it all.
Who is your favorite Cornell professor?
Professor Mark McCarthy is my favorite Cornell professor. He taught me freshman Business Computing, and set the tone for how passionate a professor can be about their students. He is constantly engaged and looking out for the best interests of his students, while pushing all of his students to live up to their potential.
What is your favorite class you’ve taken at Cornell?
My favorite class at Cornell has been Wines and Vines in the viticulture school. My dad loves wine and has always encouraged me to learn more about it, so it taught me the fundamentals of both tasting wine and growing grapes. It was a great mix of agriculture and wine-making, and I felt like it truly made me interested in expanding my knowledge of wine.
What is your favorite Cornell memory?
My favorite Cornell memory was the first time I went to the Ithaca Farmer’s Market freshman year. I hopped on a bus and got lost for about 40 minutes, but when I found the market, I was blown away. I must have gotten food from every single stand at the farmer’s market. It was really nice to see how strong the community of farmers is, and how much the people of Ithaca care about their food. I still try to go to the farmer’s market every weekend.