Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Jordon Vazquez, it provided a solid foundation and the direction he needed to pursue his dreams in culinary arts.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Vazquez, an aspiring chef who is currently working his way up the ranks in the kitchen at the luxurious Mohonk Mountain House, really wasn’t sure where he was heading in life. As a teenager, he didn’t enjoy school, faced academic and personal challenges, and was certain that a job sitting at a desk all day was not for him. Everything changed when he enrolled in the Ulster BOCES Culinary Arts program for his last two years of high school.
“I grew up loving to eat,” the New Paltz graduate recalled. “After considering the fact that I also liked cooking, I thought that BOCES would be the perfect place for me to test my love and passion for culinary arts, as well as eat some food and get rid of all the excess energy I had due to my ADHD,” he said.
“I went from being uninterested in school to being excited to get there and start my day,” he added.
Ulster BOCES, with its wide variety of classes, gave him the tools he needed to plan a bright future. “I was able to see what I liked and disliked and narrow my options,” he said. The training he received prepared him for his career by giving him kitchen fundamentals. But that’s not all.
“My teachers instilled in me a growing passion and hunger to constantly try and evolve into a better chef,” he said, acknowledging that the teachers at the Career & Technical Center focus on student interests and incorporate trade topics into their literacy, math, and science assignments.
Vazquez quickly discovered that different combinations of ingredients, spices, and herbs can have a big impact on a dish. “I loved seeing how someone’s face and whole day would change after they tasted one of my dishes,” he said. He was immediately drawn to certain ingredients, including those found in Spanish cuisine, which he had grown up eating. He fondly remembers enjoying his mother’s and grandmother’s cooking but says their dishes are some of the hardest to replicate. Still, he will never stop trying to improve and hopes to open his own Spanish restaurant someday, serving five-star, authentic Puerto Rican food.
“Many of my family recipes have been passed down for generations, and I hope to continue that legacy,” said Vazquez, whose favorite dishes include simple rice and beans, neckbone stew, and asopao, which is considered Puerto Rico’s national soup.
“Jordon, while in my program for two years, was a bright student who couldn't wait to get into the kitchen,” says instructor Irene Powell. “ He loved working independently and always requested the greatest of tasks. He would finish his jobs at a breakneck speed and then looked for more tasks to take on. He loved to incorporate his heritage into his creations.”
Upon graduating from the Ulster BOCES Culinary Arts Program, Vazquez, now armed with technical knowledge and solid skills, began to research the regional culinary field. Zeroing in on places with the best salaries, opportunities for advancement, and retirement packages, he landed a job last June in the kitchen at Mohonk Mountain House, one of the most prestigious resorts in the area.
“I love working at Mohonk because it is so professional, and no matter what, they always are pushing their staff to become better. Whether it’s a bad day or a good day, I go into work knowing I’m doing what I love, I am getting better at what I do, and I am still learning new things,” he said.