For Catie Wheeler ‘13, school is not simply a means to an end; it is a way of using newfound skills and abilities to help people in the here and now. Originally an English Education major, Wheeler couldn’t ignore her passion for cooking and transferred into the Culinary Arts and Nutrition program at the Thompson School of Applied Science (TSAS) in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA). With one credit left to graduate from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Wheeler has taken on an independent study during which she’ll share her theoretical and practical knowledge of cooking nutritious foods with Barbara Mata, the Food Service Coordinator at Cross Roads House in Portsmouth. Together they’ll incorporate excess fresh foods from the Culinary Arts and Nutrition program laboratory, which would have otherwise been composted at the end of the week, into the daily meals served at the shelter.
“I’m not surprised Catie came to me with this idea for an independent study,” says Professor of Culinary Arts and Nutrition Charlie Caramihalis. “She feels dedicated to giving back in whatever she does. In my Introduction to Culinary Arts course, Catie wrote a career essay about owning her own restaurant where homeless people could come and eat for free, providing they do something for the community in return. This is one of the reasons I nominated her for a University Scholarship Award from the Parents Association.” As a recipient of that scholarship, Wheeler has transformed a feeling of gratitude into concrete action. “Growing up in Hampton, NH, I saw a lot of poverty in the surrounding towns,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to help people out.” An ideal situation, this independent study enables Wheeler to provide meals to the homeless while teaching others about cooking, safety and sanitation, and proper food rotation.
In preparation for her work at Crossroads, Wheeler met with Culinary Arts and Nutrition Lecturer, Julienne Guyette, and Purchasing Agent, Jill Rubin, to discuss the excess inventory that cannot be used during the culinary lab classes or at the Thompson School’s restaurants, 180 Blue and Stacey’s Express, and which would not be frozen for later use. Drawing upon her well-honed meal planning skills acquired in the Culinary Arts and Nutrition program, Wheeler is working to come up with ideas for how best to incorporate those fresh foods into meals made with the non-perishable donations at Crossroads. “Catie brings her creativity, tremendous energy, and willingness to help with anything in the kitchen to Cross Roads House,” says Mata. “She has so many ideas for making foods healthier and tastier.” Mata is grateful for Catie’s contributions and hopes that this premiere independent study will pave the way for other students to come and practice their skills in the kitchen at Cross Roads House.
“I love working with food and I want to help people,” says Wheeler who dreams about having a personal chef business or owning a small cooking school in the future. “I’ve met incredible people here at the Thompson School and I’m known by my first name among the administrative staff – that’s a good thing,” she says. “This education has been amazing in helping me to see all of my options and just go for it.” Wheeler sees the Thompson School as one of UNH’s best-kept secrets due to its small school atmosphere and the individual attention she’s received from her professors.
“Catie’s just taken off with this,” says Caramihalis who has been greatly supportive of Wheeler in this endeavor. “At Crossroads, she’s helping to cook really good meals with what’s available.”
Students in the two-year Culinary Arts and Nutrition program at the Thompson School may choose from one of two career paths, Culinary Arts or Nutrition. For those, like Wheeler, who focus on Culinary Arts, there are a variety of careers to choose from in full-service restaurants, hotels, hospitals, retirement centers, and corporations. Students may also become food and beverage managers, culinary educators, personal chefs, food critics or stylists, and much more. Students who elect the Nutrition path are eligible to take a national examination that will enable each to become a Dietetic Technician, Registered. As such, these students may find employment working under the supervision of registered dietitians in a variety of organizations, including day-care centers, hospitals, health clubs, food companies, and more.