Old Colony culinary teacher brings career from simmer to boil

Mar 29, 2020

ROCHESTER — Early days of baking carrot cake with her grandmother, have led to Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical School culinary arts teacher Samantha Clarke being named the 2019 Massachusetts Restaurant Association’s Educator of the Year.

The honor was announced on March 10 at the association’s ProStart Invitational, a cooking competition where her students placed first in the culinary category.

The Old Colony graduate was shocked but she is quick to give others credit.

“It may just have my name on it, but it represents all of us,” said Clarke, who considers her win as a win for the culinary arts department and for the school.

Clarke said she doesn’t teach to win awards, but to build relationships with students, something she’ll miss during her time away from the school building because of the spread of coronavirus. 

As a teacher, she sets high expectations for her students to teach them what it takes to make it in the restaurant industry.

“If I don’t set high expectations over the years, they’re not going to hold employment,” said Clarke.

She learned this while working in restaurants in college before working as a teacher. Even then, Clarke found that she liked to teach and was always chosen to train new employees.

“I don’t know if it’s because I had the patience,” said Clarke jokingly. “It was a natural fit.”

Becoming a chef was a natural fit as well. Clarke fell in love with baking as a child in the kitchen with grandmother, baking delicacies like the carrot cake that she still teaches students to this day.

By age 11, she knew she wanted to be a chef and looked into attending Old Colony, where she graduated in 2007.

Only two years later, she began as a part-time teacher’s aide in the culinary department. When the school re-established a full-time dining room instructor, she applied and was hired. Five years later, she switched to a culinary arts teacher.

Working as a teacher’s aide, her goal was to open her own restaurant, but with the 2008 recession, that idea faded. Coronavirus restaurant closures have provided a teaching moment with her students on topics like sustainability and food waste.

“It’s a topic we’ll talk about for years to come,” said Clarke. 

Just before the school closure began, she was able to celebrate with her students when she accepted her award.

Clarke said that when it was announced that she won, it was exciting because the next announcement was that her students won gold in the culinary competition. 

For her, the award was a reflection of not only her work, but the work that is coming out of all students and faculty at Old Colony. “It’s a family community always,” said Clark.