Certification Journey: Carpe Diem

By: Robert Gracey, CC

Quite often, folks my age and younger express interest in learning more about the culinary arts and pursuing their interests in cooking and entertaining. I tell them, “Wait no longer. Enroll NOW. Carpe diem, seize the day! Follow your interest, pursue your passion. I did and enjoyed every minute!”

I grew up in a household and family in which cooking, baking and entertaining were the norm. My earliest employment opportunities during high school, college and graduate school were in foodservice, where I provided food and beverages to workers in steel mills and factories, served as a counterman in the college student union and worked as a dishwasher in my seminary dining hall.

After spending several years as a minister, I entered the hospitality industry professionally through the back door, becoming the general manager of a lodging property where we designed, built, opened and operated a full-service restaurant. I became the manager of the Wheeling Country Club mid-way through my career and spent time in the kitchen learning from chefs who had received their education from the Culinary Institute of America. At that point, I made another career shift to become a financial adviser for a full-service brokerage firm for the next quarter century, but underneath it all was an abiding interest in and passion for hospitality.

After retiring at age 69, I thought it would be great to learn all the things I should have known while working in management in the foodservice industry.

Initially, my interest was solely in terms of education for personal enrichment; a class or two at West Virginia Northern Community College seemed like a natural thing to do. I learned quickly that educational institutions have programs and prerequisites. One doesn’t just walk in the front door, picking and choosing courses at will. Programs are sequential, and courses build upon each other.

Once in the program at WVNCC, I learned that at the end of one year, I could receive a “certificate” from the college. Having achieved that, it only seemed natural to go the second mile and get the AAS degree. The final step in that process was to earn the Certified Culinarian® (CC®) status with the ACF.  Certification was another mountain to climb, and it was well worth it.

Thrilled with the opportunity to learn and grow in the culinary arts and having the time available to do so, I enthusiastically threw myself into the new world of academic and practical education. As a “non-traditional” student, I had the advantage of a lifetime of experience on which to draw and yet continued to learn new skills.

Upon completing my program with an associate’s degree, I obtained my CC® certification through the ACFEF Certification Program for students who graduate from schools with programs accredited through the ACF.

For the past four years, I have been privileged to teach “front of the house” to first-year students. Also, as a volunteer, I have been teaching, serving and tending the Culinary Arts Garden as a master gardener with the Ohio County Extension Master Gardeners’ Association.

Suffice it to say at this stage in my life, I have gained immeasurably more in the field of the culinary arts than I might have ever imagined. It has been a marvelous journey, and I am quite thrilled with my opportunities at WVNCC, imparting my knowledge and experience with younger students aspiring to a professional career in the arts through teaching.

Working with West Virginia Northern Community College has brought my certification journey full circle.  I now help other students achieve their certification through the ACFEF Accredited Program and can proudly say I’m lifetime-certified as a CC®.

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