When it comes to cooking, Chef Karen Chaffee falls in line with that rich heritage of grandmothers and mothers in the kitchen passing on their time-honored skills. In Karen’s case, her family has been the Steepletown neighborhood, and more specifically the students in Steepletown’s Kitchen Sage culinary training.
Karen was out walking her dog a couple years ago when she was first introduced to Steepletown’s Kitchen Sage culinary training. Learning that those in the training are young adults who generally have many barriers to gaining employment, she asked how to sign on to help. Over time she became the Lead Instructor, also taking on the kitchen responsibilities of feeding nearly 250 preschoolers a day, which provides much of the hands-on training for the students in Steepletown’s Kitchen Sage program. Her passion however doesn’t end with the expected 6 am- 4:00 pm schedule, as she has willingly mentored a couple of the students beyond the six week core training, providing that nurturing and familial instruction of a grandmother / mother.
On Tuesday Karen was recognized by the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation and awarded the Chef Educator of the Year Award. This award pays 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. This person demonstrates the ability to help students define and develop their careers by using their skills and abilities to provide a strong foundation for their future success. In 2017 there were 23 students who completed Steepletown’s Kitchen Sage culinary training; 19 of the 20 who took the national ServSafe Manager Certification exam passed it, earning this valuable credential in the food industry.
Karen has also recently taken on the chairperson role for the Diversity Committee of the ACF. As she noted, the ACF is making inroads into a younger, more diverse audience of young chef professionals.
All of us at Steepletown congratulate Karen on her well-deserved recognition and for all she does for the community at large.
Chef Justin Stermin (Grand Rapids ACF Chapter Secretary) with Chef Karen Chaffee (Award Recipient)