Binghamton University providing externships to Culinary Institute students

April 01, 2024

By Tiffany Peden
Sodexo Universities Communications Manager
SeoE (Stella) Hong of Vancouver, Canada, is a current student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. As part of her program requirements, she’s required to do an externship, and at the CIA’s career fair, she had plenty of options: high-end resorts, Michelin Star-restaurants, ski lodges and more.
She chose Binghamton University Dining Services (BUDS), operated by Sodexo. 
“I purposely didn’t choose a restaurant,” Hong said of selecting corporate dining as her externship experience. “This was the side of the business I was interested in.” 
Hong has been one of several CIA students to complete their externship at BUDS through a program designed by Sodexo Executive Chef Charlie Williams, CEC, CCA. 
Cooking up a program
COVID caused many issues and disruptions in the world, and one that many businesses faced was a labor shortage. 
“We were trying to build our workforce back up after COVID while staffing a new residential dining hall,” said Williams, who has been with Sodexo and BUDS for 14 years, currently as campus executive chef. “It was a perfect storm.” 
Challenged by then-District Manager Jim Ruoff to find creative ways to build the culinary team, Williams suggested establishing an externship program with the CIA. He developed the 14-week program, which included offering paid externs a place to live on campus during their time at Binghamton. 
Ruoff, current vice president of operations, immediately thought the externship was a fantastic idea to bring in the next generation of culinary talent. 
“For many of them, we’re giving them their first experience in the kitchen,” Ruoff said. “We give them a really unique opportunity and experience where they’re not just working a restaurant line. They’re in catering, production, prep, purchasing, inventory.”
After Williams and Ruoff went to their first career fair, they hired their first extern.
“Christopher Ortiz took a chance on me,” Williams said. “He came to campus and really helped me grow the program while at the same time we provided him with a good externship experience.”
And once that solid externship experience was completed, Williams was ready for more. He headed back to the next career fair and recruited three externs for the next semester. Things were on a roll.
The externship experience
To be an approved site for a CIA externship, BUDS had to provide a 14-week program that the students would be taking part in. 
“They’re going to learn how to read and create prep sheets, how to receive and store food, all of the steps that we do for food service,” said Lori Benson, BUDS director of marketing. “They’re going to be a part of resident dining and work a lot under our resident dining chefs as well as catering. And they’ll be a part of a lot of catering events. 
“Their test at the end of their time is to put up their own pop-up culinary event. They create the menu, plan it, get food ordered, execute it, and during it they’re out front meeting students.”
Benson has enjoyed supporting the externship program with marketing materials for the pop-up events, which take place in the dining hall, and photoshoots with the students. 
Ortiz’s family was from Venezuela, and he used that as inspiration for his pop-up event that featured empanadas. 
Current spring 2024 extern Parrish Borean, born in Canada, and most recently from Washington State, was getting ready for his pop-up event the first week of April.
“I have a very simple approach to food,” Borean said. “I want good food to be easy to make and inexpensive. I tried to combine that in my menu using mostly recipes I grew up eating.” 
With family from Italy, Borean will include dishes such as polenta and fettuccini at his pop-up. 
“I also like to try to incorporate vegan and vegetarian food in a way that’s sincere, so that even if someone is not vegetarian, the dish is something they’d enjoy,” Borean added. 
Dominic Farruggia from Wellington, Fla. is also a current extern, and getting ready for his pop-up that will feature different varieties of tacos. He said one aspect of the externship he’s appreciated is the training in management skills. 
“Some things I’ve learned in the program include how to stand your ground respectfully, and the aspect of managing people,” Farruggia said. “I’m starting to get a hang of that better. And I’ve also learned a lot about cooking for the masses and finding little tricks along the way to make things faster and easier.” 
Another facet of the program is to have the extern help with catering events, sometimes at other accounts. 
While Hong completed her externship during the summer, and wasn’t able to do a dining hall pop-up event for students, she did do a pop-up event for university faculty and staff that featured her custom-made hors d’oeuvres and mocktails. Additionally, she worked a lot with catering events.
“I was part of the DICK’s (Sporting Goods PGA) Open, which was a big catering event and that’s been a highlight of my career,” Hong said. 
“At the PGA tournament, she was working with frontline staff, and by end of the week we were all stressed out and tired, but she was giving direction, telling people where to go and what to do,” Williams said. “She really wowed us all. When she graduates, we hope she’ll become a long-term employee for Sodexo.”
The end goal
Ruoff said that while many of the CIA students start out not knowing who Sodexo is and what corporate dining is all about, the externs end up with a well-rounded knowledge, and often jobs at Sodexo.
Current BUDS Executive Chef Cheya Brown is a graduate of the CIA and did her externship at Binghamton.
Brown grew up in Jamaica, and learned how to cook while working alongside her family, helping prepare meals at home. 
“My love for cooking has played a large role in my own personal development through the years and it has really manifested itself into the core of my being and everything that I aspired to be,” Brown said. “I’d say that’s what really pushed me to pursue a higher culinary education and a career path as a chef.”
Corporate dining was not something that Brown had heard much about, but she was interested in the externship experience BUDS was offering, and was part of the third cohort of externs. During the program she said she did a little bit of everything: dining hall cooking, catering, and supporting other accounts with their special events.
“My fondest memory was my pop-up event,” Brown said. “Being that I’m so passionate about my culture, being from the Caribbean and from Jamaica, I chose to do something that reflected that.”
After her externship ended and Brown graduated from the CIA, she was hired on as a resource manager at BUDS and helped develop the new Caribbean Connection Food Truck. 
“I wrote the menu, we tested the recipes. We had other staff come in and some of my colleagues to try the food and give feedback. And the truck is doing well today,” she said. She added that there is a large population of students on campus from the Caribbean, so it’s great to be able to offer that authentic cuisine to them. 
“My goal right now is to learn as much of corporate dining as I can,” Brown said. “Recently I’ve broken away from the food truck to shadow (Executive Chef) Sam (Pfaffenbach, CEC) in the dining hall. I’m a sponge right now. I want to absorb as much as I can.” 
“Cheya is the initial success story out of the program,” Williams said. “Her journey with us is the whole program as I envision it. We bring these externs in, they do a great job for us during that time. They demonstrate work ethic, ability to learn, grow and lead. Then we offer them the ability to come back as resource manager once they graduate.”
The benefits
After honing his BUDS externship pitch over the semesters and working with 11 externs since 2022, Williams went to the most recent CIA career fair in February, and maxed out – he filled all four of his externship positions and had to turn away five other applicants. 
“We’re starting to get a much bigger presence at the CIA,” Williams said. “We’ve had past externs there that come to our table and help represent the program. They stand there and talk to students with me while I’m there. We have chefs hired through this program. So our presence and our footprint as Binghamton is growing there.”
The externship program has brought several benefits. Of course, one is bringing top-level culinary talent to BUDS and to the Sodexo team. Another is the diversity that the externs can bring to the program. 
“It brings diversity to our hiring practices,” Williams said, citing the different cultural backgrounds many of the externs bring with them. “I’ve struggled through the years to get female applicants even. But when I’m at the CIA career fairs, I interact with 60 percent female applicants.”
Another benefit is the effect the program has on current Sodexo employees who work alongside the CIA externs. 
“These externs bring a different energy, a different outlook,” Ruoff said. “For those engaged in the program, they have a really positive influence on our employees and our managers. They’re enjoying the experience, they bring energy and creativity, and it’s really neat to see their interactions with our staff.”
And the program also benefits the students at Binghamton University, bringing in food from different cultures, youthful menu options, and providing them with fun pop-up events. 
“We have our own recipe database, so we’re able to do more menu development, and we’ve had externs involved in some of those choices, allowing them to provide input from a college-age approach,” Williams said.
After crafting a great externship program for BUDS, Williams’ hope is to expand to other Sodexo universities, making more connections with externs and hopefully future employees from the CIA.
“A lot of students I’m speaking with, they’re expressing concerns about the rising cost of education. They’re really worried about finances. School is expensive, and where they go for an externship can drive up cost,” Williams said. “Chefs may not make a ton of money. I’m hearing more and more that a career in corporate dining is of interest to these chefs right out of school. That’s my goal for the program – to bring these externs to Sodexo, see what they’re made of along the way, expose them to corporate dining, talk to them about what we do for a living, but also about the quality of life balance that you can have with corporate dining as exposed to restaurants/resorts.”
Benson said it’s been great to see the program go from Williams’ first proposal to a dynamic multi-extern program.
“He's really taken something and he’s not giving up on it,” she said. “It’s grown and become impactful. We love the program, and we have seen the benefits. Charlie is passionate about this program, and he cares about the externs and their careers.”