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Founder and Executive Director
Laguna Culinary Arts, Laguna, Calif.
Nancy Milby, BS 82, is sitting at a long wood table surrounded by wines from Italy, Spain, New Zealand, South Africa, and, of course, France. Nearby, a deli case is filled with tempting charcuterie and domestic artisanal cheeses.
“I knew I loved to teach, and I loved to cook,” Milby says as she recalls how she realized six years ago that she wanted to combine her entrepreneurial spirit with something she was passionate about. The result was her professional cooking school and wine and cheese shop, Laguna Culinary Arts.
After nearly 20 years in finance -- as a partner at KPMG and CFO at health-care consulting firms -- Milby needed a new challenge. And one of the things her education at Haas taught her (besides her technical tax education) was how to analyze, think, and ultimately decide what was best for herself. So she took her savings and her love of food and wine and built a small cooking school in tony Laguna Beach.
It began as more of a fancy home kitchen than a professional chef haven, but took off nonetheless. Milby was a one-woman show, teaching all the classes, sourcing fresh, seasonal ingredients, and running the business.
Since then, the school has moved into a 4,000-sq.-ft. space and transformed into a revered food and wine education destination in Southern California. Students have gone on to some of Southern California’s finest restaurants and hotels, including Roy’s in Newport Beach and Montage Laguna Beach Resort and Spa. The 100th student graduated last year.
Now Laguna Culinary Arts also offers culinary trips to France and Italy, wine education classes, catering, and corporate cooking retreats. Milby oversees a staff of 25 employees and 15 chef instructors.
“When people learn how to cook, it really changes their lives. They’re excited and it opens up a whole new world to them,” Milby marvels. “And while this lifestyle is certainly not as lucrative as being a partner at KPMG, the joy that I get and give is unbelievable.”
Nancy Milby, BS 82