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Long-time culinary director retires

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By Austin Metz
Editor In Chief

Culinary department head Randy Sahajdack has decided to retire and will be replaced by faculty member Daniel Gendler starting at the beginning of the Fall 2011 semester.
Gendler, who is a 1985 graduate of GRCC’s culinary program, is the owner of San Chez Bistro in downtown Grand Rapids and has been teaching at the school on an adjunct basis since 2005.

Sahajdak is happy to have a former student and current teacher take over for him.
“If you love something as much as I do, and I’m talking about this department, you want to leave it as good as it can be and yet leave room for the next person to take it to the next level,” Sahajdack said. “We are ready to do that.”

One of Gendler’s early goals for the program is its expansion.

“In thirty years we have gone from 30 some odd students to 240 students when we moved into this building and we are at 750 now,” Gendler said. “There is nothing broken about the program that needs to be fixed, it just needs more space.”

To go along with the idea of expansion, Gendler is looking to add more certificates for students to pursue.

“I don’t have specific program certificates I’m going to go after right now but the possibilities are there for more space, for more students and for different or more certificates,” he said. “We could do a bartender certificate, a beer brewing certificate, or even a food research/ culinary science certificate.”

As Gendler moves forward, he will be drawing from his past experiences in everything from Aerospace engineering to becoming a restaurant owner.

After starting out in the Aerospace engineering program at Grand Valley,  Gendler decided he wanted to get out from behind a desk, and switched to culinary.

“I fell in love with the hands-on aspect and being able to create both physically and artistically,” he said.

One key that Gendler brings to his position is real-life experience.

“I know what an employer needs from a student in the initial hiring process,” Gendler said. “The skills, the knowledge, the attitude, anything that goes along with that person. I am intimately knowledgeable about what that takes.”

Gendler is also familiar with many of the businesses downtown.

“I stay in touch with downtown committees, the downtown alliance, the Grand Rapids convention and the visitors bureau board, things like that  which I have purposely stayed in touch with on a monthly basis,” Gendler said.

Sahajdack echoed the same point.

“Dan already has those partnerships. He already has those connections versus an outside hire.”

On top of that, Gendler has experienced the many struggles and issues students may face  when it comes to finding a job or switching careers.

“All of a sudden you had your sights set on a career path and something happens that forces you to change that perspective and that’s a scary place to be,” Gendler said. “Our average age is 28 so these are no high school grads. These are people who are changing careers or moving forward in their careers so I can identify with that very clearly.”

As Gendler prepares to take charge of the culinary program at GRCC, Sahajdack is preparing for the unknown.

“I’m going to retire and I’m not the least bit apprehensive about what life brings to me,” Sahajdack said with a smile. “I have been blessed that when life has rolled things my way, I have been able to deal with them positively and end up in a good place.”

The unknown is what makes him look forward to his future.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do and that kind of excites me,” Sahajdack said. “There are a lot of places to make hay so I will probably lay it down for four to six months and then reinvent and be whatever help I can to Dan.”

Sahajdack became department head in 2002 and served as only the third director in the history of the culinary program.

As he exits the program, Sahajdack offered a bit of advice to the students at GRCC.

“Slow down a bit,” Sahajdack said. “Life is so quick and students are on their computers, pdas and cell phones and just slow down a little bit in their lives. Slow down a little bit in their learning and become an expert at something.”

“If it’s culinary arts, if it’s the technique of smoking (meat), if it’s being the best bartender possible. Become an expert in something and it will serve you all of your life.”