Center for the Advancement
of Food Service Education
Last October, Mary Petersen
wrapped up a three-day tour of peanut fields and factories with
lunch at the Peanut Festival in Plains, Ga. (Yes, former President
Jimmy Carter was there and seated about two tables away.) The
following month, it was off to Denver, Co., for a meeting with
food manufacturers and fellow food editors. Traveling is an important
component of her work as president of the Center for the Advancement
of Foodservice Education (CAFE) and editor-in-chief of CAFE's
online magazine, The Gold Medal Classroom.
her sophomore and junior years of college, Petersen and a girlfriend
spent a year working their way around Europe. When she was offered
a position in the admissions department after graduation from
the University of North Carolina, she turned it down. "[Traveling]
was in my blood," she says. "If I took the job at the university,
I feared I'd never get out. That's when I went to work as a flight
attendant. Understand that those were the pre-union days [late
1960s], so when you got married, you had to quit---and I got married."
Petersen moved to Williamsburg, Va., then to Annapolis in 1971
because of her husband's job relocation. Three years later, on
her own with two young daughters, she took a job at Fleet School
for Secretaries, now Fleet Business School, where her career flourished
for 11 years. By the end of the second year, she had become executive
director of the school and served on numerous state and national
committees concerning standards for vocational schools and programs.
Persuading people of the value of vocational education became
Petersen's calling. In the 1980s, she was hired by the president
of Baltimore International Culinary College, now Baltimore International
College, to help get them accredited. At his urging, she traveled
to a national convention of the American Culinary Federation (ACF)
in Nashville where she spoke to the board of directors about culinary
arts accreditation. The ACF hired her to do a feasibility study
to determine whether they should get involved with accreditation
of culinary programs. "Back then, maybe 300 colleges were teaching
culinary arts," she says. "Ten years before that, there probably
weren't 50. When asked about a culinary arts program, colleges
would say, 'We have a kitchen.' They would then hire a retired
chef and do a program."
Upon presentation of her report to the ACF, Petersen was hired
to set up and direct the ACF accrediting commission in 1985. After
the second year, the commission was recognized by the U. S. Department
of Education. "I worked for them for 13 years," she says. "In
my tenure, I visited more than 100 schools in the U. S. with a
team consisting of a culinary educator and an industry chef. We
would do a three-day, on-site visit and measure their program
against standards we had set. We raised the level of culinary
arts education in the United States, and I am very proud of that."
In 1998, Petersen approached a publisher of culinary magazines
to discuss setting up a national organization for culinary educators.
As a result, she became co-founder of FENI (Foodservice Educators
Network International) and editorial director of Chef Educator
Today, a quarterly magazine targeting foodservice educators nationwide.
"The biggest challenge was to convince industry supporters that
they should be investing in this niche," she says. "One of my
favorite statements to make is 'Marketing to the masses is dead.'
Marketing these days is more effective if you do it through influencers,
and culinary educators are influencers of a quarter million students
Petersen divides her professional career into two segments: before
culinary arts and after culinary arts. "I've had no culinary training,
and I'm not a gourmet cook," she says. "I've been working with
chefs for 20 years and I so appreciate their passion."
Petersen explains that most of the older chefs in the industry
went right into the kitchen through apprenticeships rather than
going to school. Today, there are many more avenues available
to them: research, teaching, writing; they can be on television;
they can be chefs in a hospital or on a cruise ship. "The one
piece that may be declining is white-tablecloth dining," she says.
"We see that segments, called on-site food service, are growing
faster---stadiums, nursing homes, colleges. A lot of chefs like
that because they can get paid well and work normal hours. In
white-tablecloth dining, you work evenings, weekends and holidays."
Working with chefs has been challenging for Petersen. "You are
exposed to fabulous food all the time," she says. "I try to work
out every day." She also enjoys sailing with her husband of 19
years, golf and skiing, as well as serving on the board of directors
for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. "I think Annapolis is
so lucky to have a facility like this," she says. "My kids have
gone to Maryland Hall. I love the idea of the arts, so I have
committed to working on several committees."
After returning to school to earn her M.S. degree from Rochester
Institute of Technology, Petersen was later awarded an honorary
doctorate of humane letters from the Art Institute of Denver.
In 2003, she was given the Chef Herman Breithaupt Award by the
International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education.
"It's kind of like a lifetime achievement award in culinary education,"
Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who
enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.