A leader of progress
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 14:10
Many awards have been given to him, most recently the Frank Hernandez Service Award for outstanding catering services and providing the campus with delicious cuisine.
For culinary arts department Chairperson Nader Sharkes, the recent accolade holds a greater meaning than other awards he has received because it comes from the students — who are the driving force in his passion for helping others.
A helpful hand
“We are in the business of changing people’s lives,” Sharkes said. “My philosophy is engagement every step of the way. You don’t just engage your first (class) meeting, or the second meeting and the final meeting, no. Throughout your session (with them) you engage when you see them in the hallway. It brings the student closer to the course, closer to the finish and closer to the instructor.
“The main goal for me is to graduate workers. Not just to get a job, but to maintain a job. So when they go out there they are competing and can win,” he said.
The epitome of the benefits to Sharkes’ teachings is current student Odale Thomas.
Now in his last semester in the culinary arts program, Thomas is a graduate of the Bay Area Rescue Mission’s drug and alcohol addiction recovery program and through the culinary arts program, under Sharkes, he has developed into a better citizen.
He now works as a cook at the rescue mission, giving back to his community and helping those in need — as his instructor had done for him.
“God has put it on my heart to stay at the Bay Area Rescue Mission,” Thomas said. “I’ve been offered several jobs at a lot better pay. But, I feel that I’m providing a better service to the community and to myself by helping some of these younger kids and some of these older gentlemen get into college.”
Thomas said his affinity for helping others is attributed to the time he spent under Sharkes’ wing.
“Every event we put on, he provides the catering,” he said. “It was an honor for us to honor him. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to help students.”
There are a lot of students who enter the culinary program that others may believe do not belong in school, or in the program, because of disadvantages or personality flaws, Thomas said.
However, Sharkes does not discriminate.
“It is just Nader. He’s helping those who have a disadvantage or an attitude problem,” Thomas said. “I have seen so many students turn their lives around, become better parents and develop more respect for their elders.”
Sharkes said many of his students enter the program with disadvantages such as financial difficulties or family hardships. So, he pushes his students to work hard so that when they enter the professional world they do have the advantage of a strong work ethic.
“That’s the homie,” culinary arts major Floyd Williams said about Sharkes. “He genuinely cares about your education and well-being. That’s why he’s here — to help us succeed. He’s the real definition of an instructor.”
His strong connection with his pupils has led to some of them referring to him as “pop.”
“Of course I’m not their pop,” he said. “I mean, but, what an honor to me. That means you’re feeling comfortable with me. That’s really better than any award.”
The culinary arts program goes on yearly trips to other countries. Thomas has been fortunate enough to travel to Parma, Italy.
Although he is a favorite among culinary scholars, Sharkes can be forceful in his tutelage when necessary. His stern teachings were an important part of former student Elisabeth Shwartz’s professional progression.
“Chef Nader provides you with realistic skills and work ethic,” Schwartz said. “It’s very helpful when you do enter the workforce. He taught me to stay focused on my work, try to do my best and always look forward to the next project.”
Originally from England, Sharkes was also a disadvantaged youth. The sixth born of nine children, Sharkes took it upon himself at the age of 12 to get a job at a restaurant to help support his family. After his father died when Sharkes was just 5 years old, there was an extra need for assistance.
Though cooking is a major part in his life, Sharkes said his truest passion is instruction. In Europe he studied psychology. While in the U.S. he earned a master’s degree in social studies from Saint Mary’s College.
He earned a food science certificate from Penn State University and from there he went on to become the executive chef at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s restaurant in Manhattan.
Next summer, the program will be sending students to Parma in conjunction with the Italian not-for-profit organization, the Marco Polo Institute for Mediterranean Culture and Tourism.
The institution is also in union with Italian state governments and local restaurants and food production companies. While the CCC campus stayed away in observance of Native American Day, Marco Polo Institute CEO Giacomo Berselli was the guest of honor for a luncheon held in the Three Seasons Restaurant on Friday.