CROWNPOINT, NM — Five years into accreditation with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and Navajo Technical University’s Culinary Arts program earned special recognition after NTU representatives were named the ACF’s Student Chef of the Year, Chef Educator of the Year, and Chef of the Year for the state of New Mexico.
Earning the accolades for Student Chef of the Year was Commercial Baking major Lorena Giesbrecht of Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, while instructor Brian Tatsukawa, CCC, and program director Bob Witte, CEC, earned the Chef Educator of the Year award and Chef of the Year award, respectively.
“It’s a tremendous achievement to be recognized by an institution like the American Culinary Federation, who represents the premier standards in the culinary world,” stated Dr. Casmir Agbaraji, dean of undergraduate studies at NTU. “What our staff, faculty, and students accomplished is admirable on so many levels, and speaks to the quality of instruction that is coming out of NTU.”
Giesbrecht earned the Student Chef of the Year award after thriving in her year at Navajo Technical University while obtaining a degree in Culinary Arts. A transfer student from Doña Ana Community College – New Mexico State University, Giesbrecht found her culinary palette at NTU where she graduated with an associate’s degree in the spring. After winning a state SkillsUSA gold medal in April of 2017, Giesbrecht went on to take gold at the national SkillsUSA conference in Louisville, KY in the category of Restaurant Services. She is now pursuing her associate degree in Commercial Baking and is commuting five hours once a week as she finishes the degree.
“I wouldn’t have to go to this school necessarily anymore, because I graduated. I could go to a school that’s five minutes from my house rather than five hours, but I don’t because this is where I got my start. This is where people believed in me,” explained Giesbrecht, who lives in Las Cruces, but is from Ontario. “When I go to job interviews, they’re like, ‘What is NTU, where is it?,” and I tell them it’s worth discovering. That’s where teachers [care] about your education. They care about you as a person.”
As the Chef Educator of the Year, Tatsukawa’s award was described by the ACF as a tribute to an active culinary educator whose knowledge, skills, and expertise have enhanced the image of the professional chef, and who, by example, has given leadership, guidance and direction to students seeking a career in the culinary profession. Like Giesbrecht, Tatsukawa has thrived at NTU where he has developed a special connection with his students in advancing their interests and professional endeavors.
“Brian is a very patient instructor, which is very, very nice,” explained Giesbrecht. “He’s very detailed and focused on helping the students do well. He helps students with their placements and internships and helps them to go further. It’s nice to have someone who wants you to achieve something greater than what you thought possible for yourself.”
While pushing for something greater for his students, Tatsukawa has also found himself wanting to become a better educator. “It kind of puts things into perspective,” Tatsukawa reflected about his award. “It made me think of what I could do better and how I can improve on what I did well in the past. It’s causing me to be more detailed, to push harder, and to expect more because the bar has been set, and it’s time to go above that.”
The final recognition under the ACF was bestowed upon NTU’s director of food services, Bob Witte, CEC, who was crucial in getting NTU accredited under the HLC. Witte has been with NTU for over fifteen years, and much of his work has been spent improving the Culinary Arts program so it properly aligns with ACF standards. His work included not only beefing up the program’s curriculum, but also improving the educational resources and infrastructure needed to support the program’s operations.
“It’s awesome for him to get that recognition because a lot of the time, we don’t,” said Tatsukawa of Witte. “Education and cooking are some of the most thankless jobs out there, so it’s nice for him to get that recognition. It’s nice that he got it for a change, instead of him focusing on everyone else’s light.”
While Tatsukawa and Witte’s recognition ends with a medal, Giesbrecht will next compete against other students who were recognized by the ACF in the Southwestern region. The competition will take place in Long Beach, CA at the end of March, and will have competitors cook four plates from a mystery basket utilizing two different cooking techniques. If she wins at regionals, Giesbrecht will then go on to compete at a national ACF event.
For more information about NTU’s Culinary Arts program or the awards achieved under the ACF, contact Chef Brian Tatsukawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.