The Best Career…Hands-down
Gower Lane always enjoyed working with his hands. He loved tinkering with cars so much that he pursued a degree in Automotive Technology from the State University of New York at Delhi. But after working in the automotive field for a few years, he realized there was another hands-on activity that he loved even more—cooking.
Back in the ’70s, Gower’s mother worked for renowned caterer Abigail Kirsch, so he was exposed to the culinary arts at an early age. When Gower was old enough, he started working for Kirsch too, first as a dishwasher and then at various positions as his skill set grew. “I stayed there through high school, then worked at a pizzeria during college. When I graduated I went back to work with Abigail on the weekends,” says Gower. “I liked what I was doing so much I decided to make it a career and applied to The Culinary Institute of America.”
While he wasn’t exactly thrilled about being a student again, Gower knew it was the right thing to do if he wanted to succeed. “Getting back into textbooks and the regiment of studying was tough but I really appreciated my time at the CIA,” he explains. “I felt strongly that my education could lead me to a variety of careers. The opportunities seemed endless.”
Gower initially planned to work in the hotel industry, but a position at a continuing care retirement community changed his direction. “I found I really enjoyed senior living, so I stayed,” says Gower, who is currently director of operations at Kendal on Hudson in Sleepy Hollow, NY. “Dining is an important social event for the residents and to make that an enjoyable experience is truly rewarding. It’s no longer the outdated misconception of restrictive diets or institutional food. We serve restaurant-style cuisine, everything from comfort food to gourmet dishes made fresh to order.”
Freshness is an integral part of the menu for Gower. “We cook without sodium or any trans fats,” he says. “We use only olive oil and develop deep flavor by caramelizing vegetables and using fresh herbs and spices. We grind our own beef, smoke meats, make sausages, and make fresh mozzarella as a way to control the levels of sodium in our food. About 95 percent of all food products are made on premise.”
Working in a senior facility presents some unique challenges for Gower. “We serve three meals a day, close to 400 covers, our biggest and most popular being dinner,” he explains. “Unlike restaurant patrons we see our guests every day so it’s important to change our menus frequently to keep things interesting. Some residents are getting well-balanced meals for the first time and complain they’re putting on weight!”
In his position, Gower is responsible for the 500,000-square-foot building and surrounding property. The facility offers three levels of living—independent, assisted, and skilled nursing care—in a multi-storied building with sweeping grounds on the banks of the Hudson River. Gower was a member of the opening team for the facility in 2005, as well as for the newest Kendal property, The Admiral at the Lake in Chicago.
For a qualified talent pool from which to hire, Gower looks to his alma mater. “Having a degree from the CIA puts your résumé at the top of the pile. Graduates are well-rounded, knowledgeable, and on top of trends in the industry. They know proper cooking methods and are well-versed in sanitation,” he says. “Now with the CIA’s bachelor program I’m seeing chefs with real management skills. When I’m hiring I need someone on top of their game and I get that from the CIA.” Recent additions include Sean Whalen ’00, executive chef at Kendal on Hudson, and Joseph Bochniak III ’99, director of culinary services at The Admiral on the Lake.
Gower is equally impressed with the CIA bachelor’s degree program second-semester senior class, Foodservice Management in Health Care spearheaded by Professor Lynne Eddy. This course introduces students to the challenges of running a health care foodservice operation and prepares them for management positions in that field. “Professor Eddy and Chef Pierre LeBlanc recently toured the facility and I look forward to the opportunity of working with the CIA on this important initiative. For now I’m going to hang a sign in the dining room that says ‘A CIA chef-instructor cleaned his plate here.’”
And a CIA graduate continues to make senior diners very happy there, too.