Denis Durnev


When you measure how far Denis Durnev has come since arriving in Minneapolis from Moscow, it’s not about the miles he traveled. It’s really about what he has learned and been able to accomplish.

Consider that when he arrived in the United States in 2000 at the age of 21, Durnev didn’t speak English. Now he has graduated from the Culinary Arts program at Hennepin Technical College, is nearing completion of his bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management at Metropolitan State University, works full-time as an executive chef at Walker Methodist Plaza in Anoka, Minnesota, andis teaching a catering class at HTC. Here’s how it all started.   

Durnev was studying engineering at Moscow State University, but left prior to graduating when he had an opportunity to come to the U.S. Through his aunt, Yulia Yakovleva, who was a sous chef at an assisted living facility in Minnetonka, Durnev got a job as a busboy/server/dishwasher. When she left for another job, Durnev took her place. Gaining skills as he worked, Durnev found inspiration and a great teacher as he worked alongside the executive chef, Dan McKitterick. That gave him an opportunity to learn about scheduling, ordering and decision-making.

“It was a wonderful place,” says Durnev, “and the residents helped me learn English.” Soon, he knew the menu, but not how to prepare the various dishes. Then he started to learn.

“My first macaroni and cheese I served cold,” Durnev recalls with a laugh. “Any chef who says they have never burned anything or never served undercooked chicken is kidding you. You learn from your mistakes.” Accepting an opportunity to be executive chef at another facility, Durnev eventually returned to his former employer when his friend McKitterick retired. However, when new owners took over the facility about three years later, Durnev was laid off, which, he says now, was actually the best thing that ever happened to him.

“Just for fun, my wife, Yelena, and I decided to go to Hennepin Technical College and take the placement test. My math skills were good, and my English was good enough that I didn’t need English as a second language,” says Durnev. That was in 2010. “I was late registering for fall semester, but because of my experience, the counselor sent me to see Don Wood and Dave Eisenreich, who are culinary arts instructors.” From there, his college career was launched.

“My first semester, I took 40 credits, which people find hard to believe,” admits Durnev. “But as an executive chef, I was used to working 12-hour days, so I didn’t mind having long days at the college.”

 Durnev found that HTC offered a positive atmosphere. “There’s so much support at the college,” emphasizes Durnev. “My instructors and fellow students were all great.” His education changed the way he viewed culinary training. Durnev points out that as an executive chef, he had seen resumes of applicants with training at private cooking schools, which he thought must be superior to a public institution such as HTC. “Now that I’ve seen how HTC prepares students for culinary careers, I would definitely choose the HTC graduates to work in my kitchen.”

With a high grade point average as he neared graduation in 2011, Durnev decided to continue his education at Metropolitan State University. An articulation agreement between HTC and Metropolitan State facilitates credit transfer of HTC's Culinary Arts A.A.S. degree toward a bachelor's degreein Hospitality Management. “Since I’m working full-time and taking fewer classes at a time, it’s taking longer to finish,” says Durnev, “but I hope to complete my degree in 2015.” That’s not the only good thing to come from his training at HTC. 

In 2012, he was invited to teach a catering class at the college. “I was extremely excited to teach a class, but it was also terrifying,” he recalls. Now he has taught at Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie, and the experience reinforces what he has always liked best about HTC:  “When you walk in, everyone is smiling and everyone is willing to help.”

Realizing how far he has come and how much he enjoys what he is doing, Durnev says,“I’m looking forward to a long relationship with Hennepin Technical College.”

Denis Durnev

Last updated by jhanson : 2016-08-18 15:35:58