mous with quality.

“We’ve received an exemplary status from the American Culinary Federation of Chefs,” says dean David Brough, an alumnus of the program at SCCC. There are only five colleges in New York state accredited by the ACFEF, and the SCCC is the only one to receive this status. “We set the standards high, because this is a field that is demanding,” says Professor Kim Williams. “The student that comes here thinks that they want to be a restaurateur. I tell them don’t come in with tunnel vision.” Williams, also an alumna, spent some of her professional career in sports food service at the Houston Astrodome. At SCCC she instructs the students in the dining room and in the school’s banquet facility. She is professional and efficient, but very patient with the students. “Many of the students start out with challenges—with family, education, or academic,” she says. “Everyone has a story.” The average age of a student in the HCAT department is 27 years old. “It used to be 29, it’s getting younger,” says Brough. Food is more popular than ever thanks to the prevalence of cooking and food shows on television, which have helped to make the average Joe a “foodie” and transformed the chef into rock star. The first culinary arts program at SCCC was in 1982, and there were 25 students in the graduating class. Today, the number of enrolled culinary students has almost tripled. At 41 years old, Sean Davies will graduate from the program at the end of the fall semester. He is what is known as a “career changer,” someone who already had a good job before deciding later in life to switch gears. Primed to take over his family’s furniture business, Davies knew deep down that he wasn’t doing what that he loved. He had a semi-secret passion for cooking and watching food shows: Top Chef, Restaurant Impossible, and Restaurant Stakeout were among his favorites. “I used to be proud of my chicken parmesan,” he says. “Now that I’ve taken the program it seems so easy.” While in school Davies took home a silver medal in a cooking competition for his poulet saute merengo, a fairly

complex dish that he had to prepare in a little over an hour. He is proud of the accomplishment, and carries a photo of the meal on his smart phone. “It used to take me an entire day to prepare a dish,” recalls Davies. “Now I could do the same thing in two hours with no mess afterwards.” He credits the culinary arts program with taking him beyond the glamour world of cooking shown on television to learning the methods, efficiencies and business practices that it takes to become a successful chef. Davies has bid farewell to the world of furniture forever and plans on training under a chef for a few years before eventually opening his own restaurant. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing empty plates coming back,” he says. Vivian G erena-Whitaker first heard about the programs at SCCC while working for Disney in Florida. “Co-workers were talking about this school in Schenectady,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s my hometown.’” A single mom who raised five daughters, Gerena-Whitaker waited until her last daughter was in college to start the process for herself. She recently got her GED through a course at SCCC in order to enroll in the Restaurant and Hotel Management program. She is in her 50s now, but says that she knew she was meant to cook and entertain at age 9. “When [my family] got me that EZ Bake oven, they created a monster,” she recalls. “I’m like my grandmother—come in my house and everyone gets food.” She would like to open a catering and event-planning business one day. “College was the dream part,” she says. “Now I’m going to make the rest happen.” The HCAT department at SCCC boasts graduates working all over the Capital Region and beyond. While students may learn specialized kitchen and service skills here, it is the inner change that is most inspiring. “They start with less than zero confidence and in the end they are ready for a job anywhere in the restaurant industry,” says Alicandro, who has watched many students pass through the program over the years. “The transformation is almost mindboggling.”

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