HILLTOWNS – Berne-Knox-Westerlo Food Services Director Lateef Clark has a huge portfolio of professional and academic experiences, which he uses not only to manage school district kitchens, but to teach students skills that will help them in all aspects of life.
Clark was hired by the district last summer, through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, but before that he spent nearly 20 years as an executive chef, over four years as a culinary instructor. and five years as a sous chef (or less). He holds a Masters of Business Administration and an undergraduate degree in Culinary Arts, as well as various certificates, licenses and diplomas.
All of this led Clark across the world and to the White House, where, as part of an exhibition, he prepared a pantry, or a platter of cold food, which he described as one of his proudest professional moments.
“The White House storefront was surreal to me because you always see it on TV, but being there was a treat,” Clark told The Enterprise this week.
He ended up there while an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Arts in the late 2000s, after a colleague who knew White House staff helped him bring in. instructors “to showcase what the local cooking programs were doing,” Clark said. . He added: “The partnership we have developed with the staff has enabled some of our students to do an internship there.
“[I] I never thought that in a million years, my chosen career path would take me to places I only dreamed of, ”said Clark.
Clark took his first restaurant job at age 15, but his cooking studies began at age 7, under his grandmother’s tutelage. He said she taught him “the basics” and made him read the notes she made in “The Joy of Cooking”, a massive but minimalist cookbook that has thousands of recipes in its pages, and which the famous cook Julia Child described as an essential text. of the American culinary tradition.
The notes, Clark said, explained how his grandmother appropriated the recipes from the book. Clark is now helping BKW students do the same.
He recently led a group of business and animal science students to second place in the New York Beef Council’s fourth annual Top Beef competition with an original recipe for beef-tip pancakes.
“I started out as a cook many years ago, following the instructions and criticism of chefs who came before me,” Clark said. “I was like, ‘I hope I can share my knowledge that I have learned and pass it on to others.’ It is very important for children to acquire basic skills and knowledge of cooking.
“Cooking is not just a question of techniques and skills; it is also a question of life. We call it life skills, developing awareness of your environment and that of others. The kitchen has always been a sanctuary for food and cooking. And share what I know. Whether in a professional setting or in the halls of BKW, I always think, learn and teach.
He went on to quote Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono, renowned for his spartan work ethic: “Once you have decided on your profession, you have to immerse yourself in your work.
“And this,” said Clark, “is what I’ll keep doing until I can’t do it anymore.”