Central Carolina Culinary Institute - Mentor-inspired cooking, story 2
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SANFORD - Chef Gregg Hamm is executive director of the Central Carolina Culinary Institute, an academic program offering everything from continuing education classes to a two-year associate degree in culinary arts at three separate locations.
He shapes and promotes the curriculum. He teaches classes. He manages an eight-member staff that includes an administrative assistant and seven culinary instructors, some working full-time at the college and others working in the industry and teaching as adjunct instructors. He even oversees three student-run cafes, one at each of the culinary locations in Pittsboro, Sanford and Dunn. And he's involved now in a major renovation of the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, a project that will add a large commercial kitchen that will soon become home to a catering-focused curriculum in Sanford.
That sounds like enough, but that's just what he does with the college. Chef Hamm also owns Cafe 121, a popular restaurant in Sanford that he created years ago, largely to give his culinary students a chance to get their foot into the door of a competitive restaurant industry. It has worked well for a steady stream of aspiring chefs. Not the least of which is Chef Lucy Dubiel, who studied under Chef Hamm in high school and college, and now manages Cafe 121.
How did he end up teaching culinary arts? "I always wanted to be an educator," Hamm said, recalling his childhood on a farm in western Virginia, just miles above the North Carolina border, where he grew up cooking with his grandmothers. "I wanted to be inside cooking rather than outside working on the farm."
It wasn't until he walked into a high school classroom and met culinary arts teacher Patricia Werth that everything fell into place. Inspired by her skill and her character, the young student realized culinary arts was where he could combine his love for cooking and his passion for education into a lifetime pursuit. At his teacher's suggestion, Hamm entered a recipe contest sponsored by Johnson and Wales University, one of the nation's top culinary colleges. He won, pocketed a $40,000 scholarship and set off to attend the university's campus in Charleston.
After graduating from culinary school, Chef Hamm did some catering until his mentor convinced him to join her at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh. He accepted the job and worked with her, side by side, until the full-time teaching job he was searching for finally arrived. So, he headed to Lee County High School in Sanford, where he taught for 12 years before moving across the street to Central Carolina Community College.
Werth passed away many years ago, but no matter what he has pursued, Chef Hamm has carried his high school mentor's inspiration with him, even naming one of his restaurants after her. Until recently, the chef operated P.G. Werth's in Raleigh, a restaurant serving dishes inspired by their roots in the Blue Ridge mountains.
Chef Hamm has clearly found his calling. "This," he says, "is all I every wanted to do."
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