Kimberly Burke arrived at Northampton Community College having already learned some of the fundamental core competencies in the safety, sanitation and basic preparation of food. While she was attending classes at Liberty High School, Burke was also enrolled in Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School's Culinary Arts program. Cooking became her passion thanks to time spent with her father, who taught her that a person should take the time to enjoy and appreciate the food that they eat. The opportunity to start a culinary career with an affordable education is then what drew her to NCC.
"My sister went to NCC, so it was always an option for me because I knew the experience that she had going here," says Burke. "I was already Safe Serve Certified from my time at Vo-Tech, so all I had to do here was the Nutrition Certification. I was then contacted to be part of the Presidential Ambassadors program, which is what told me yes, I want to go to NCC."
As a Presidential Ambassador, Burke is one of 24 students afforded the opportunity to participate in – and network at – NCC events such as the Foundation Dinner, Alumni Awards, and more. It was at the Alumni Awards where she first met Chef Dianne Henry, who helped her get moved into the program faster after the completion of her general education credits. NCC's full culinary staff, Burke says, goes out of their way to see that their students succeed.
"They have so much knowledge to give, and we need to be soaking it up like a sponge. We're in the core part of the program for a year and a half; you get that level of respect between each other and I think it's awesome that we get to bond in that sort of way," says Burke. "That we were trained by them will forever stick with us."
Burke has completed several key areas of the program, including Product ID, Baking, and Meat Cutting. She's eager to get involved in creating fully plated meals, particularly in the student-run Hampton Winds restaurant on campus. She gets good practice in working with the public and with food during her part-time job as a cook at Wegmans Food Markets, where she's responsible for prepared meals and the cold food bar. Balancing both work and school has left her time for sleep and little social activity, but she says that a hectic schedule is something that all culinary students should become accustomed to.
"You have to be serious about it, have a passion for it, and love it," says Burke. "The hours aren't going to get better; they're going to get worse as you get into the field. You have to show that you're committed to it."
Burke points out that many of the culinary faculty members have local connections that can only help the students as they progress in the program. She's also heard about the opportunity that students have each year to compete for a chance to cook with Emeril during the annual Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Festival. Burke went through a professional development course at Vo-Tech and also continues to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, where she contributed over 130 hours in nutritional meal preparation prior to starting at NCC. All of this will continue to serve her well as she works to complete her culinary degree by the summer of 2015.
"Here, I'm learning a full set of skills. You need that to be a great cook," says Burke, who confessed that Asian-style cuisine is actually her favorite. "In this field, you should never stop learning. That's how you keep growing."