This spring, SUNY Broome’s Culinary Arts program marked the historic moment of officially graduating it’s first class. Recent graduates Evan Kruppstadt and Soojung Lee returned to the Culinary and Events Center in downtown Binghamton to share their experiences and prepare a favorite meal. Both Kruppstadt and Lee uprooted their lives and followed loved ones to Broome County. In doing so, they each had a moment where they thought, “what is my purpose here?” Then boom… They saw a sign, both literally and figuratively, that drew them to SUNY Broome’s Culinary Arts program. Now, Kruppstadt and Lee have both successfully completed the program and are employed by area restaurants.
Evan Kruppstadt has always loved the fellowship of food. Growing up in Kingsford, Michigan, long family dinners were a major part of his childhood. “My mom and dad always included me in the preparation of family meals. We mostly made typical American dinners, but they were always hearty and delicious,” he said.
Though Kruppstadt had always toyed with the idea of opening his own bar or restaurant over the years, he put the idea on the back burner while he completed his college education in liberal arts.
When Kruppstadt’s fiance, a meteorologist, was offered a position based in Broome County, Kruppstadt joined her in her cross-country relocation. At the time, he was working in the medical billing and coding industry and was able to work remotely. Working from home, in a new city, knowing no one, can be incredibly lonely. During one of Kruppstadt’s post-work neighborhood walks, he rounded a corner and came face to face with a sign. “I looked up and saw a huge billboard promoting the new Culinary Arts program. I stared at it for a second and thought – this is what I want to do,” he said.
While many students prefer to focus on the physical cooking courses, Kruppstadt felt that the non-cooking classes were equally as critical and valuable to his culinary education. “I actually really enjoyed the practical classes like “Hospitality Purchasing” and “Sanitation and Safety.” I apply things that I learned in those classes every day in the restaurant,” he said.
Like Evan Kruppstadt, Soojung Lee was also searching for a purpose in her new home of Broome County.
Lee grew up on a farm in South Korea. Her mother made a great effort to teach her from an early age about the nutritional value of the fruits, vegetables, and flowers that grew on their land. Lee eventually left the countryside and moved to Seoul, but she never forgot her mother’s lessons on the natural health benefits of farm to table cuisine.
Lee was living in Seoul, South Korea with her husband and their two children when they first considered moving to Broome County. “I wanted my children to have a full bilingual experience. At that time, they only knew Korean and had no exposure to their American heritage. I also wanted them to have the opportunity to know their paternal grandparents. Immigration rules are always changing, so we took the opportunity when it was presented, and moved to Broome County to live near my husband’s parents,” she said.
In South Korea, Lee worked as a uniform designer and make-up artist and worried about what her professional prospects would be in the United States. “For the first year, I was really depressed. I was in a new country and didn’t know what to do. Then one day my husband and I were driving downtown and we saw a sign in front of the old library building advertising it’s renovation into a culinary school. We both thought that the idea was cool and my husband encouraged me to contact the school for more information,” she said.
Lee soon realized that training to become a chef was a natural fit for her. She could apply the traditional skills of pickling vegetables and drying herbs that she learned as child and develop new culinary techniques via classes like “Garde Manger” and “Baking Principles.”
When asked about her biggest challenge as a non-traditional student, she didn’t hesitate to respond. “Everything is a challenge when English is your second language. I really struggled in the beginning. Especially during the first two weeks of classes. I was running around campus with a huge backpack and had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. Thankfully, my professors noticed and helped me find my way,” she said.
Kruppstadt and Lee now spend their days and nights working in some of our area’s most beloved restaurants and breweries. While they may not always remain residents of the Southern Tier, they will always have a special bond to this community thanks to an encouraging sign and a welcoming kitchen.