His answered call into ministry through the kitchen door

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By Michael Ashcraft —

When God called Ira Krizo distinctly and undeniably to ministry, “there was no use waiting any longer,” he says.

So he immediately went to New York… to culinary school.

Yes, cooking.

Ira wasn’t called to the pastorate. He wasn’t called to the foreign field as a missionary. He wasn’t called into worship.

He was called to be a chef — a Christian chef. After all, God’s calling and gifting is to myriad areas of life, not just stereotypical “ministry.”

Today, Ira is the president of Christian Chefs International, a network of believers who have almost as much gusto for gourmet cooking as the Gospel.

With 14 chapters active or pending in America and abroad, the Cannon Beach, Oregon-based non profit holds annual conferences and boasts a 1-year, non-denominational culinary school where they don’t throw knives at the students.

“In many secular kitchens I’ve worked in, I’ve seen the chef yelling and screaming all day long at people,” writes Ira in a devotional on CCI’s website. “I’ve seen chefs throw things; once even knives. Is that the best way?”

Ira recommends humbly confronting head chefs who abuse their authority. He suggests chefs use the Biblical model: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-18 (NKJV)

Even reality TV programs depict the outbursts of rage that occur under pressure when chefs are striving to meet the demands of their patrons.

Under the title “Christians in the Kitchen,” the CCI website offers devotions for cooks that include ethics in the kitchen, being content (restaurants typically experience a high turnover of staff) and being “prayed up” for the pressures of the job. One encourages disciples to be “sourdough Christians,” with analogies per ingredient.

CCI members include chefs from church camps, seminaries and prisons. Tyrone Barton writes about his experience as head chef on the Mercy Ship in the Caribbean. On his time off, he’s not sunning himself cruise ship-style but pours over cookbooks for tricks to make treats more rewarding for his fellow servants aboard.

“I am a volunteer; my financial support comes from family, friends, and my home church. This is a full-time job for me.” Tyrone writes. “I live on this ship and have dedicated my skills and talents to the Lord’s work with a grateful heart.”

CCI has chapters in Pensacola, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama; Seattle, Washington. Abroad there are chapters in New Delhi, India, and Lagos, Nigeria — with chapters pending in the Republic of Congo and Istanbul, Turkey, according to the website.

The Christian Culinary Academy is an Oregon-licensed higher education trade school offering theory classes and hands-on intern practice to  prepare “properly trained professionals” in theory and practice on the art and science of cutting, baking, garnishing and presentation. Students learn how to keep a kitchen stocked and modify recipes when suppliers can’t fulfill an order.

Bible classes instill a Christian mindset for the kitchen and prepare chefs to be effective witnesses in the face of pressures and demands.

Faculty and guest instructors include pastry pros and Southern food phenoms. Graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Ira has worked in the culinary arts since 1995, mostly in fine dining in France, Australia, Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, Southern California and Oregon.

His Christian Culinary Institute and culinary school have come a long way since its inception in 1998. He simply was answering an atypical call to ministry and making himself available without worrying about has perceived lack of qualifications to head the international network.

“Whether He’s called you to be a witness in the kitchen or to minister to other Christian cooks and chefs around the world, remember, it’s not about what ability you have or don’t have,” Ira writes. “Just like Paul said in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”

Michael Ashcraft supports his Christian journalism by selling bamboo steamers on Amazon.