Keiser University student and Veteran Brian Heiler has always had a passion for creating memorable recipes and was reminded how unifying a shared meal can be after serving as a U.S. Navy Aerographer’s Mate.
“While in the service, I had the opportunity to visit many amazing countries and live in different places. One thing that has always stood out, was the connection between food and humans. No matter what part of the earth you are from, or your culture, food is the one thing that brings people together. Cooking at home, and for others is something I very much enjoy, as it gives me a chance to bring people together as we relish the moments we share and keep those memories close,” reflected Heiler.
After serving in the Navy for most of his adult life, Heiler returned to civilian living and found that his culinary hobby presented additional benefits after an extensive hospital stay. “When I got out of the Navy, I left with a myriad of health issues. After spending several months living in the Veterans Affairs hospital system, I gained a lot of weight, as did many fellow patients. This really bothered me because although my health was getting better, I was 30 pounds heavier. The lack of exercise combined with food that was high in sodium and calories took a toll on my body,” said Heiler who eventually started volunteering in the hospital cafeteria. “There in the kitchen, I saw people smile when I handed them a plate of hot food. Plate by plate, person by person, I finally felt hope. When I saw how happy people were laughing, telling jokes, and smiling while eating the meals I helped to create in those walls of a rehabilitation facility where misery and despair are in abundance, I began to envision my dreams. I knew this would be my chance at changing everything, or at least I would try. To me, it all boiled down to a way to give back.”
Heiler then began researching Culinary Arts programs and soon enrolled at Keiser University’s Melbourne campus. “I knew I wanted to make a difference, so I made a promise to my doctors, nurses, counselors, and social workers that I would equip myself to work at a healthcare facility to help others through healthy nutrition. Keiser University is an all-around great school, and the university’s track record speaks for itself. Having great Culinary and Nutrition and Dietetics programs was all I needed to hear. It also helps that the campus is local and very military friendly. Chefs McGuinness, Jung, and Curtis all have an amazing wealth of knowledge and a passion for teaching. I enjoyed learning from them. They are so different in style and technique, but drive home the basics, and fundamentals of Culinary Arts. It’s truly been a great learning experience and just an overall rewarding degree program, I’m thankful for their hard work and efforts,” smiled Heiler.
Heiler graduated from Keiser’s Culinary Arts program in July 2020 and has continued his educational journey by enrolling in the university’s Dietetics and Nutrition program. The first in his family to graduate college, he is thankful to serve as a positive example. “My children appreciate my efforts and hopefully I am also making my parents proud because I will be able to provide a wonderful life for my family and future generations,” he said.
For Heiler, the educational and wellness experience continues to go full circle.
“We are all human and have our own unique set of faults and issues. I have managed to overcome mine with food, hope, and compassion. And by doing that I will be fulfilling the promise I made to all the doctors and VA healthcare workers that helped me along the way. Food is a healer and a comforter. If it can bring peace to someone in need, or nourishment in sickness or health, I want to be a part of that,” said the Hollywood, Florida native who’d love to work at a veterans facility after graduation with patients who have substance abuse and mental health issues.
When asked if he favors any special ‘secret’ ingredients, Heiler shared his thoughts. “Love, I cook with a few handfuls of that every time. It’s the one ingredient I recommend for every dish, you really can’t go wrong.”