Alumni Spotlight: EJ Miller, from CIL to International Smoke


June 21, 2018


Do you know what CILCoppa Ristorante, Punk’s Simple Southern FoodRiel andInternational Smoke have all in common? They all have been part of the culinary journey of alumnus EJ Miller who will open in the upcoming days the Houston location of Ayesha Curry Michael Mina’s restaurant International Smoke!

Hugo Ortega, Michael Mina and EJ Miller for International Smoke Pop Up at Hugo’s

Who are you? 

First Name/Last   EJ Miller
Hometown   Houston
Current City   Houston
Course of Study   AAS Culinary Arts
Year of Graduation   2012

“Be better than what you were the day before.”

What is your story?

I started to work while I was a student at CIL for Clark Cooper under Chef Brandi Key guidance – she is still one of my personal mentors today. I started there as a food prep and from there grew to a sous-chef and then Chef de Cuisine at Coppa Ristorante. After 3 years, I continued with Clark Cooper Concept as an opening chef at Punk’s Simple Southern Food and then SaltAir. After these experiences, I realized it was time for me to do something new. I was the Executive Chef at Down House in the Heights for a while and during that time I was able to travel and make a couple internships in New York and Chicago. I think education is primordial, if you stop learning then it’s over! I really tried to push myself and surround myself with chefs and cooks that are way better than I am in order to become better.  After Down House, I opened a restaurant called Riel with Chef Ryan Lachaine, to be the Executive Chef over there. And once everything was up and operating, I was contacted by Ayesha Curry and Michael Mina to open International Smoke, in Houston. I’ve been in San Francisco for about 6 months learning all their procedures, and now we are almost ready to open! Mina has been really kind to me. You know, one of my passion is about sourcing and I am able to go to local farmers and ranchers to get my products and I am able to bring this into this new restaurant. So a lot of local Texan farmers and ranchers will be featured on the menu of International Smoke and I am very happy about that.

“Besides the knowledge and skills I needed, CIL gave me the courage to step into a professional kitchen”

What inspired you to become a chef? How was your journey to becoming a chef? 

Well, I would say, it all came from when I was a kid when I used to go to my aunt’s house; she is as Southern as you can possibly be. We were a very close family growing up together and you know it was all about showing hospitality when you have guests or someone comes over – I thought for a long time about working in hospitality actually before working in a kitchen. So I guess it comes from there, being surrounded by this atmosphere fed my passion for this path.

Why did you choose to come to CIL? 

I was living in Houston and being in a French Culinary School, being taught by French Chefs: Chef Pierre, Chef Laurent, it was amazing. I had a lot of great memories there! I think CIL provided me with a great head start. It gave me all the knowledge and basics I needed – which I still remember and use every day but above all, it gave me the courage to step into a professional kitchen.

What is the best memory you keep from the school?

I had the chance to cook for Chef Albert Roux at CIL. And I remember him specifically telling me that the sauce that I made was divine!

What is your signature dish, the one you love the most and why? 

 Actually, I don’t have any; I always try to evolve. I don’t like to stay stagnant so I just try to push myself and grow, create as much new things as I can think of!

Any words of wisdom or advice for our current and future students who dream of a success story like yours? 

Work hard and don’t give up!

From left to right: EJ Miller with Ryan Lachaine (Riel), EJ at International Smoke Pop Up in May 2018, EJ Miller and Michael Mina

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