Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Elise Macur, it meant building a strong culinary foundation that prepared her to explore a variety of career opportunities in the food industry.
Elise, a Wallkill Central School District graduate, says she was the quintessential high school student who wasn’t sure what she wanted to focus on in her future. “Ulster BOCES helped me hone in on what I wanted to do—become a chef specializing in baking and pastry arts,” she says.
Attending the Career & Technical Center was almost a missed opportunity for Elise, who had not been aware of the Culinary offering at Ulster BOCES. Fortunately, she was available to attend an assembly at her school when representatives from the Career & Technical Center visited.
After learning about the opportunities that were available, enrolling in the Culinary Arts program was an easy decision to make. “I was the classic story of someone who grew up watching their grandmother bake apple pies and I knew I wanted that [to become a baker] from the time I was 11,” she remembers.
The professionalism that was required, both in the classroom and in the kitchen, was established on the first day of class. “Chef Arnao told us that wearing shorts and open-toed shoes was not acceptable,” recalls Elise, adding that the program’s elements of discipline, and the need to be physically and mentally present at all times, contributed to her strong work ethic.
Elise says being in the Culinary Arts program provided her with her first experience working in a professional-grade kitchen, as well as helped her form friendships that still continue to this day. “I’m still in touch with those people,” she says. “I never knew anyone from Onteora or Ellenville. The relationships I made in that class are ones I still have today.”
Elise flourished at Ulster BOCES and after she graduated she pursued her culinary arts education at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), earning an associate’s degree in Baking and Pastry Arts. She went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in Food Business Management.
Elise says her time at Ulster BOCES provided her with a familiarity of the curricula and gave her an academic advantage in college. “People in my college freshman year were struggling with things that we learned in high school,” she explains.
After graduating from college, Elise moved to New York City (NYC) where she worked her way up into a management position at a bakery before returning to the Hudson Valley where she began working at the CIA in various roles, including as a teaching assistant sous chef at one of the school’s public restaurants. She then became an admissions demonstrator, traveling to more than 100 vocational schools across the country to meet with prospective students. She says it was that experience of inspiring young chefs, coupled with training employees at the NYC bakery, that helped her realize her ideal profession. “It was an aha moment that teaching is what I was meant to do,” she says. “I love this age group and I realized how much of a difference BOCES made in my life.”
Today, Elise is a teaching assistant in the Ulster BOCES Culinary Arts program and has advice for students who are considering enrolling in one of the Career & Technical Center’s programs. “I say dive right in! It’s the kind of education that appeals to hands-on, visual, and audio learners, and that’s what you are going to get here. It’s an amazing experience. The instructors are excited and passionate and they want you to succeed!”
As for her future career goals, Elise says she hopes to one day become a teacher at the Career & Technical Center.