By Guest Blogger Mackee Bancroft, Executive Chef Manager, Sodexo - Campus Food Services
Frybread. Mutton stew. Navajo tacos. Steam corn. These food dishes have one thing in common – the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo culture emphasizes the importance and beauty of plants and crops, and therefore the people have an undying relationship to food which brings nourishment and healing - it is a treasure and a way of life for the Navajo people.
Executive Chef Mackee Bancroft
San Juan College, NM
I had the pleasure of visiting the first tribal university that was recently accredited by the American Culinary Federation – the Navajo Technical University (NTU). NTU is located in northwest New Mexico, on the Eastern edge of the Navajo Reservation in a small town called Crownpoint.
The drive to this school was fascinating - the land beautifully exposed its mesas, plateaus, and agriculture for miles. As I was approaching the town, I saw a tall beautiful white horse overlooking the community and the only thought that I had was a pleasant one, “Is this the billboard that welcomes us to Crownpoint?”
Just before I could assume this culinary school in the middle of the desert to be a mirage, I arrived at the state-of-the-art culinary and hospitality building. It was a dream come true - the doors opened and my heart raced as I saw a kitchen full of Navajo students in chef uniforms. I walked in as they were receiving instruction of banquets and catering and I was immediately humbled by their eagerness to learn.
In the midst of an American Indian and European fusion, I met NTU’s Director of Food Service and Executive Chef Robert Witte - he was definitely a chef with an “i,” a “chief” who loved his tribe of rare Indian chefs in the making. My engagement was to introduce careers at Sodexo and possibly recruit some of these “Chief Chefs.” It was a historical moment as the students refocused their gaze on my presence – I was one of them, an American Indian with a culinary passion!
I explained to the students how Sodexo has a myriad of culinary training to keep them above the cutting edge. For example, Sodexo goes one step further for our chefs by closely partnering with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) to develop a mentoring program to help them prepare for certifications. Additionally, the Sodexo Culinary Board partners with Talent Acquisition to deliver a three-part webinar series aimed at career advancement. Chefs who participate in the series earn continuing education credits that are recognized by the ACF.
As Native American Heritage Month comes to a close, I am proud to share my story as a Chief Chef. If you are looking for a place where appreciation for cultural heritage is woven into the culture and where plentiful opportunities for personal and professional growth awaits you, then Sodexo is the employer for you!