Students and Staff Welcome a Very Special Guest to the Culinary Academy: Secretary Hillary Clinton!

By Culinary Academy Las Vegas January 27, 2016

Students and Staff Welcome a Very Special Guest to the Culinary Academy: Secretary Hillary Clinton!

At noon yesterday, The Culinary Academy was abuzz with activity. Men in suits and high-tech ear pieces roamed the corridors, camera-wielding reporters packed into the conference rooms, and as students and staff fluffed pillows and made last-minute adjustments to their work stations, excited calls of “Is she here yet?” rang through the hallways. This wasn’t a typical day at the academy; it was the day staff and students would meet a very special—and famous—guest: Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Though the kitchens and halls of the Academy had seen several famous faces over the years, including President Obama and Senator Reid, this was the first time a former First Lady and presidential candidate would be stopping by, and that had students and staff fidgeting in nervous anticipation.

“It was nerve-wracking,” admits Block 2 student Ricardo Rolan, smiling cheerfully. “We had to practice and make sure our uniforms were extra pressed and clean. I mean, they always have to pressed and clean, but we had to make sure everything looked extra perfect.”

Mark Narang, another Block 2 student, agreed, saying: “Everyone made sure everything was spick and span.”

Students working to make sure everything is perfect
The calm before the storm

CALV students, racing to their positions. It was show time!Soon, the secret service began calmly ushering everyone into place and Ricardo and Mark and the other students were joined by a group of journalists and cameramen, who immediately began filming and snapping photos. Chef Charles Caldwell and the students launched into their mayonnaise cooking demonstration, stirring and measuring as Chef Charles gave instructions and words of encouragement. Ricardo was slightly embarrassed to be working in front of such a large group of people, but tried his best to ignore the clicking cameras and audience of press and security as he focused on his task at hand. “I’m not used to being in the spotlight,” he explained.

Students feverishly whisk as the press watch
She’s here!

All of a sudden, a small commotion erupted. Secretary Hillary had been spotted through the window, causing the energy in the room to escalate, as camera men and women stood on tip toes, cameras high above their heads, and everyone looked towards the door, anxious to catch a first glimpse.

And then suddenly, just like that, Hillary was in the room. While smiling and admiring the students’ work, Hillary interviewed Chef Charles and student Karla Ramirez about what had brought them to the school and their plans for the future, as well as what the curriculum entailed.

Chef Charles explained to Hillary about how great it was to see his students’ move on to successful careers, explaining that he’d gone to visit several of his students who now work in famous restaurants in Las Vegas, including Lago and Harvest. “It was amazing to see my students laughing and smiling,” he explained. “I realized how much progress they’d made, how far they’d come.”

Hillary smiled and nodded. “That must have made you feel so good,” she acknowledged.

Karla Ramirez, who got to share her story with Hillary as well, was one great example of this. She started taking classes at The Culinary Academy right out of high school and was hired by the Signature Hotel after completing the kitchen steward training program.

Though Hillary wanted to stay for the mayonnaise, her tour wasn’t over, and staff swiftly directed her into the kitchen, where she interviewed Chef Patrick Simon. She also spoke with retired vet and student Edward Dixon, commenting to Edward that America should provide more opportunities to disabled vets. That was when Hillary spotted April Mcintosh and her team, who were nearby making vegetable lasagna.

“What are you making?” Hillary wanted to know, examining their dishes with interest. While some of the others stared wordlessly, nervous and starstruck, April answered calmly, “Butternut squash vegetable lasagna”, and then responded to questions about her experience managing a restaurant for six years. April was accustomed to working with famous people, having worked for Dinner in the Sky in the past. “She’s just a human being,” April explained later. “No reason to be nervous!”

April’s pitch must have worked, because she earned a nod of approval from Hillary. “Maybe I’ll get to try your food sometime,” Hillary commented to the group.

Next it was on to a room in the Hospitality Suites Corridor, where Hillary met with Anna Tavera, the lead hospitality instructor, as well as eight hospitality students, who stood proudly in front of the pristinely-made beds.

Hillary asked Anna “How long you been an instructor?” and “You have students from everywhere, what are your biggest challenges?” Anna answered all of Hillary’s questions with the ease of an experienced professional. When Anna explained about the successes her students had experienced, Hillary commented, “That’s exciting and wonderful,” and told all of the students that their plans for the future sounded “very exciting.”

Before leaving, Hillary addressed everyone in the room with an encouraging smile, saying, “I wish you the very best as you gain the skills you need to go out and get a job.”

Hillary completed her tour with a meeting with David Hoenemeywer, Chair of CALV, and Regional President of Bally’s Paris and Planet Hollywood, in The Westside Bistro (because no tour is complete without a stop at the Bistro!).

Ana Puljic, our Director of Programs & Outreach, shares a laugh with Hillary at the end of the tour.

After her motorcade had pulled away, taking with it the teams of secret service and press, the students and staff congratulated one another on a winning first impression. Though it was a surreal experience, for Chef Charles and students Edward Dixon, Ricardo Rolon and Mark Narang, it was an unforgettable one as well.

“It was interesting life opportunity,” commented Edward. Mark agreed, saying, “It was a unique experience to see a presidential candidate in our space.”

Chef Charles had an even more enthusiastic response, grinning ear-to-ear and saying, “It was a pleasure to meet her. It was definitely one of those life highlights. I’m glad I had the opportunity.”

We hope Hillary was glad she had the opportunity to meet us, too! We certainly all were!

Our board members and community partners had to get a quick selfie with the Secretary. Can you blame ’em?
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