ADDISON – Chef Faith Jennetta feels her job as a culinary educator and coordinator of the Culinary, Pastry Arts and Hospitality Management Program at Technology Center of DuPage in Addison is all about her students. So, when she won the Sysco/CAFÉ (Career Advancement for Foodservice Educators) Foodservice Educator of the Year award this spring, her $1,500 cash prize went to help a student further her culinary education.
“I applied for that award to get the money into that young lady’s hands. She was exceptional, and she couldn’t afford to go to school,” Jennetta said. “But now she is able to go into an apprenticeship program, working in food service at Notre Dame. I’m proud of the award, but my job is to give my kids opportunities.”
Jennetta, 55, was named the first Foodservice of the Year – Secondary Education winner in April. She was selected by a panel of five foodservice educators from around the country and competed against 15 other culinary educators. She sent her resume, as well as testimony from her boss, colleagues and current and former students as part of the application process.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I’m here to help students find their way. Teaching is hard nowadays, and it’s a different generation. Some students don’t get the same opportunities I had while growing up, and I get to help them.”
Jennetta, who is a professional pastry chef, is from New Jersey but moved to the area 13 years ago when she began working at TCD. Prior to that she worked as a chef in hotels and restaurants and even owned her own business.
“In order to work at TCD, you have to have a professional background,” she explained. “Students need to have math, science and problem-solving skills to be successful in this business. If their goal is to manage a facility or own their own bakery, they need to know how to manage a staff, know about the product, as well as purchasing equipment. The food is actually a very small percentage of the food service industry.”
TCD is the career and technical education school for 24 high schools in DuPage County. Jennetta’s students are juniors and seniors who are interested in careers in the food service industry, and her class counts toward their elective credits. She teaches two three-hour classes every day.
“The goal is to give students career path exposure, and it’s about students finding their passion and running with it,” she said. “But I have high standards, and I hold my students to them. I tell them that this is hard work but not to give up.”
Kevin Larsen, 25, of Bensenville, is one of Jennetta’s former students. He said she was a great educator and had a lot of respect from her students. Larsen is now working as a sous chef in Chicago and said he wouldn’t be there without her guidance.
“She was very stern because she wanted us to be the best, and she wanted us to be disciplined,” he said. “She gave us advice that we can use not only for our jobs, but for the rest of our lives.”
Jennetta said she’s proudest of her alumni, who often come back to the school to mentor and encourage her current students. She said they help her students get jobs or internships.
“(The alumni) are giving my students real-life advice and real-life experience. It’s nice for me, too, because I now have a peer relationship with my former students,” she said.
Daniel Moody, 25, is one of Jennetta’s former students who comes back to help. He’s now working as a sous chef in Western Springs.
“She’s such a motivating and passionate person, and was just an awesome instructor,” he said. “She is the reason I go back to the school.”
Alvaro Lima, another former student, said Jennetta was “almost like a mother” to her students.
“She did everything she could to help her students get scholarships, and even today, she still reaches out to see how we’re doing,” Lima said. “She believed in me, and she pushed me further than I thought I could go.”
Jennetta teaches anywhere from 80 to 150 students a term. She said that several of those students become interested in the culinary arts because of what they see on the Food Network, and she believes it’s her job to “demystify the TV image” of the industry.
“We want to harness their excitement, but I tell them that what they see is glamorized for television,” she said. “But who’s to say they won’t end up on TV? I push them to do their personal best.”