He's not clowning around


When Joe Branton graduated from Clemson with a double major in English and history, he looked over the job possibilities related to his education experience and saw that the list included clown.

"So after four years of college I was qualified to be a clown," Branton said with a laugh. "I figured I had made a huge mistake and didn't know what I was going to do for a living."

Of course, he always had the family business, Ashley River Lumber Mill in Ridgeville, to fall back on. But he wanted something different.

So he went out into the world and worked in film production, did a stint at a public television station in Charlotte, then decided his future might be in snowboarding in Colorado.

When those ideas didn't work out, he returned to the lumber mill where he worked his way up to junior vice president in eight years before he decided to go for his dream job -- cooking.

Better dinners

But it's difficult to tell your wife and two children you're quitting your good-paying job to go to culinary school at age 35.

"My wife has a good job and is very supportive," said Branton, who is about to complete his education at Trident Technical College at the age of 37. "But I told her I might go through all this and all we get out of it is better dinners."

Then again, it might be the change Branton and others like him have been looking for all their lives.

During his two-year training at the Palmer Campus on Columbus Street, Branton has won awards and impressed everybody, including Scott Stefanelli, chief instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.

"Joe reminds me of myself," Stefanelli said. "I was a career-changer. I worked in marketing and sales before becoming a chef. So I appreciate what you go through when you face your family and say you want to learn to cook."

Keep searching

But there's more to going to school than going to class. Branton is active in every aspect of the school experience.

"Joe has been involved in everything we do here at the school," Stefanelli said. "And I tell our students that kind of involvement is twice as valuable as sitting in class."

Interestingly, Branton said the most important thing he learned in school was leadership. But instead of working as a restaurant chef, he's interested in food research or possibly teaching.

"If there is a moral to this story," Branton said, "I guess it's important to keep searching for what you really want to do in life."

Unless, of course, you want to be a clown.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598. To read previous columns, go to post andcourier.com/burger.