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On the Bright Side

April 25, 2014

SUNY Cobleskill chef named 'Educator of the Year'

An area culinary professor is considered the crème de la crème of chef educators in the Northeast after he received a prestigious award in early April.

Keith Buerker, associate professor of culinary arts, hospitality and tourism at State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, was named “Chef Educator of the Year” by the American Culinary Federation at the organization’s annual Northeast Regional Conference in Rhode Island this month.

Buerker, who has taught at the college since 1992, was named the winner at the closing ceremonies on the last night of the conference, at the last possible moment, he said.

“It caught me off guard,” Buerker said, “I didn’t expect it at all.”

More than 500 chefs and food service professionals attended the conference, which was held from April 11 to the 14th. Participants attended business seminars for professional development and cooking demonstrations about how to incorporate green and sustainable cooking concepts into restaurant kitchens. According to Food & Beverage magazine, the American Culinary Federation was established in 1929 and, with nearly 20,000 members in 200 chapters nationwide,  is the standard of excellence for chefs in North America. The organization offers educational resources, training, apprenticeship and programmatic accreditation. 

Buerker said he thinks he was chosen to receive the award because of his many years in the food service industry and in education. At the age of 14, he began working in the kitchen of a small Schenectady restaurant called “The Erie Barge” and, by the time he was 17, had worked his way up to head chef, he said. The owner ended up selling the restaurant to Buerker, who owned and ran it and still managed to hurry across the street to attend Schenectady County Community College during his lunch hour each day.

After eventually selling the restaurant, Buerker bought a hotel in the Albany area called The Albany Motor Inn, where he was able to stay and receive free maid service, he said. He became executive chef for the facility before deciding to go back to college. Buerker said he also worked as a resident manager for various Holiday Inns during his schooling, returning to Schenectady on the weekends.

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