(Note: February is Career & Technical Education Month. In recognition of the vital role vocational education plays in our schools and communities, this is one in a series of stories of success achieved by local students who participated in the CTE program through the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District.)
Sometimes, the Clare-Gladwin Career & Technical Education program helps a home-grown student solidify his career choice, providing the hands-on, real-world training necessary to take the next step, be it on the job or in college. And sometimes, it takes the baton from another CTE program and ensures students finish their training ready for the world. For Chris Buzzelli, the CTE training he received here delivered both, and today, he’s the Prep Chef at the Taproom at Ithaca Beer Company in Ithaca, NY.
Buzzelli lived downstate until his senior year of high school, when his family relocated to the central Michigan area. Already very familiar with CTE through his previous school, Buzzelli snapped right into the Clare-Gladwin program, attending Beaverton High School, site of one of CTE’s Culinary Arts courses. He graduated from BHS in 2011.
Buzzelli found the transition relatively painless and the instruction excellent.
“My interest in the culinary field came very late – I was already in high school,” he said. “So when I chose to start CTE, I viewed it as a way to get my feet wet, to make sure my interest was really there. I knew that I’d be exposed to the kind of top-notch industry knowledge that I was looking for. The instructor in Beaverton, Heidi Rocha, had plenty of knowledge and experience in the hospitality management aspect of the field, so I was lucky in that this rounded out my education.”
Between the two CTE programs, Buzzelli found opportunities to compete, as well as to certify his skills.
“One year, I participated in regional SkillsUSA cooking competition, and the next year we went the state ProStart cooking and quiz bowl competitions,” Buzzelli said. “Both experiences were validating to the practicality of what I was learning in CTE. I was able to combine the two years of CTE curriculum with after-school work experience and take an exam to receive the NRAEF Certificate of Excellence, which confirmed that my CTE education met national standards for restaurant education at the highest level.”
For her part, Rocha knew great things were in store for Buzzelli as he passed through her class.
“Chris was very focused and driven as a student in my program,” Rocha said. “You could tell that he had a passion for culinary arts, as he was constantly reading books, studying outside sources and experimenting on his own. He even took the initiative to experiment with molecular gastronomy and put together his own book. While he was in my class, he also worked at two jobs at restaurants, including the Riverwalk Grill in Gladwin and The Hearth Restaurant at Sugar Springs.”
Aside from the classroom instruction and hands-on experience in real-world settings, CTE helped Buzzelli concentrate on what life after high school had to offer.
“If I didn’t have as deep of an involvement in the career field that interested me, I may not have maintained focus on pursuing it,” he said. “In terms of higher education, it kept me on track to take the steps to advance my career beyond high school.”
CTE provides a valuable focal point for students, Buzzelli said, a place to start figuring out the rest of their lives.
“It is important to get an early start in your career field, and there is a lot of pressure on you as a student to pursue a specialization,” he said. “However, I can tell you there’s a lot of life left after high school to be flexible with the jobs you take and the work you do. So there’s really nothing to lose, and I recommend you go for it and take a CTE course. Even if it turns out not to be a perfect fit, it will diversify your resume and make you a more versatile employee.”
Buzzelli is quick to credit the role CTE played in helping him achieve his career dreams to this point.
“Because of CTE, I was able to make the most out of my time at high school and get a head start on my college and career path,” he said. “I was very familiar with the subjects when I went on to culinary college, and even before that, my CTE experience helped me to get work while still a high school student.”
That post-high school life included graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, where Buzzelli set upon another profound path in his life – marriage.
“I actually ended up meeting my now-fiancé when I moved to New York to attend college,” he said. “We both graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and are getting married early this autumn. We currently both work full time and are in the beginning stages of starting our own catering company. We have done two weddings in the past, and have three more this summer.
“I work a lot, but I enjoy being outdoors when the weather is nice,” he added. “I recently got into cycling to offset all that eating we do. I also collect cookbooks, and we have more than three hundred now in our personally curated collection. Many of them are of fine dining chefs I admire like Christopher Kostow, David Kinch, Christian Puglisi, Pascal Barbot and the Voltaggio Brothers.”