Jerry Dakan named Chef Educator of the Year by NM American Culinary Foundation

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SFCC congratulates Culinary Arts Program Lead Jerry Dakan, who was awarded the state Chef Educator of the Year by the New Mexico American Culinary Foundation. As New Mexico’s awardee, he will be recognized nationally at the ACF conference in August.

“Chef Dakan is a leader in the industry, but more importantly a dedicated pillar in his community. His work with World Central Kitchen during the COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates his connection to and love for the community that he serves. His dedication to his students at Santa Fe Community College and mentoring young chefs in competitions and apprenticeships is indicative of his commitment to the industry and the people it serves. This award of excellence is about the character as well as the skill of the chef,” said Leonard G. Bailey II, CEC, CIC, BSCA, who served as New Mexico ACF Chapter President and is currently Chairman of the Board.

Inside SFCC asked Dakan about what the award means to him and how he’s continued to lead as an educator during the pandemic.

Q: What does this recognition mean to you?

A: I have been a culinary educator for about 12 years. I have worked hard for our community, culinary program and students. I really appreciate the recognition for my efforts, and I am honored to have been chosen for our state.

The American Culinary Federation has been a longtime supporter of our students and I am grateful for all the opportunities it has provided. I have been elected vice president of the New Mexico Chapter this year, along with my best friend and colleague Chef Cristian Pontiggia as president. Together, we plan on recruiting more professionals and students into our chapter and have great things in store for them.

We are planning a local culinary competition, monthly meetings, continuing education and a yearly gathering for our members. Part of our goal is to enrich our members and other culinary professionals through education, apprenticeships and travel. All of our students gain free national membership and when they graduate they will be able to become a Culinary Professional through the ACF.

Q: It’s been a challenging year. Can you elaborate on how you kept your culinary students engaged during this past year?

A:  We partnered with an online culinary school called Rouxbe to help our students enrich themselves at home during the lockdown. We also built cooking kits for students to take home and participate in at-home culinary lessons. We were successful at giving students the opportunity to learn and obtain credit at home.

We have started an “unofficial” culinary club called Sweet and Savory. We meet every week and discuss all things culinary. We cook a dish every week together and discuss our experiences. One of the first dishes we prepared “together” was chocolate chip cookies. Although we all had the same recipe and ingredients all the results were different, and we were able to learn from each other and laugh with one another. It was amazing that cookies could be so enriching and challenging. We plan on making our club official with the college and membership will be open to anybody on campus who is interested in joining. 

We had the amazing opportunity to work with Robert Egger and José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen. Chef José offered us $100,000 (through a partnership with SFCC Foundation) to feed as many people we could — one hot meal a day for 9 weeks. In that time, we made 50,170 meals and spent less than $60,000. We averaged $1.55 per meal and the food was excellent. We were able to build a team of students, alumni, volunteers, professional chefs and colleagues to make this a success. We had four students working and obtaining credit during this project. Two students gained permanent employment at Las Campanas for their efforts during this project.

Being able to teach, work with a team of amazing volunteers and make a big contribution to our community has really changed my life. Although we were going through a time of uncertainty, our community and college was able to come together and make a huge impact.

As restrictions have been lifted, we have begun offering classes in person in our culinary labs. Our students are hungry for knowledge and are ready to make a difference.

Visit Culinary Arts to learn more about the program and the Culinary Arts classes offered this summer and fall semesters.