Corey Lee, chef and owner of Benu Restaurant in San Francisco, encouraged graduates of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone to find one core belief to help them make sense of the demanding and competitive culinary industry. Lee addressed 40 associate degree recipients at commencement exercises held Friday, December 20, 2012 at the college’s California campus.

For Lee, a James Beard award-winning chef and accomplished restaurateur, that core belief is creating beautiful cuisine and sharing it with others.”If you can offer cuisine with imagination, excitement, and elegance, and you can provide care and service that makes people feel looked after, it’s possible for a guest to come into your restaurant and feel that life, for that moment, is a little more beautiful,” said Lee. “That’s why I work in fine dining.”

At Benu, located in the SoMa district of San Francisco, Lee creates French cuisine with Asian inspiration. He began his culinary career with humble beginnings while working long days in London, England, making only enough money to live in an old bomb shelter. Lee shared that he would insert pounds into a meter, and choose to purchase either electricity or heat for the evening. On special occasions, he splurged for electricity to heat a can of baked beans over a hot plate.

“Ironically, that period in my life is the first time I was really happy, and secure about being on the right track professionally,” said Lee.

In 2001, he arrived in the Napa Valley and went to work at The French Laundry, where he stayed for nine years before opening Benu.

“I hope each of you finds that one thing that makes all of the challenges you have, and all the sacrifices you’ll make, worth it,” said Lee. “Because if you do find that one thing, and you believe it to your very core, nothing can stop you.”