CDM of the Month

James Zeisler

Name: James J. Zeisler, Sr. CDM CFPP CEC CCA

Job Title: Program Head of Culinary Arts

Employer: Virginia Western Community College

Job Location: 3099 Colonial Avenue Roanoke, Va. 24015

Years at Current Facility: 10

Years in Current Position: 10

CDM Since: 2000

Why did you decide to become a CDM?

I became a CDM to be more marketable in my job. I was a dining services manager and Certified chef in a retirement facility. I wanted to be able to be more marketable, so I went for my CDM.

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

I oversee the entire culinary arts department. I have a full-time staff of two and part time staff of up to eight. I create class schedules, teach several classes, hire, advise students, perform a lot of community work, such as catering fundraisers for local charities, with the help of the culinary students.

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?

I work best with deadlines, so I set deadlines for myself. I also use to-do lists to stay on track and not forget anything. My classes are my first responsibility at work, so that is first. Then, I use my time for advising and program head duties.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?

Since this is a community college and not a facility, as far as health care goes, I have implemented many things, as I am the one who started this program. I have implemented all the rules and regulations of the program, as well as implementing other programs, such as a career studies certificate in catering and cake decorating. I have also implemented a fast-track Career Studies Certificate in culinary Arts where a student can get this certificate in 1 semester. I have also implemented teaching ServSafe Alcohol to the students, in addition to regular ServSafe, which we give the exams for both.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

At age 14, I was a dishwasher (pearl diver) at the Bosom of Abraham. It was a health food restaurant in Virginia Beach, Va. I soon progressed to line cook.

Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?

I have been in this industry almost 40 years. I have had many mentors along the way, and I still encounter mentors. But, if I had to pick one, I worked for a chef named Lenny Russo. He had no culinary degree, no certifications either, but he was one of the greatest and most knowledgeable chefs I have ever known. I only worked for him for 4 months, but I learned a lifetime of lessons from him.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

The biggest challenge I face in my position is that I work for the State. Nothing can be done easily nor logically. That makes the job very frustrating. However, once I am in front of the eager students, I forget all the negative and relish the time I am teaching.

What is your favorite part of your job?

When I teach a student something completely new and they are just amazed; then they learn to do it themselves and become even more amazed.

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

I read association magazines, (ACF, ANFP), I attend conferences and workshops and any other continuing education that I can.

How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?

I see real culinarians continuing to seek employment in health care settings. Healthy, sustainable food will continue as well. I see more people demanding culinarians with degrees and I also see a bigger push for teaching of soft skills.

What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?

DON'T DO IT!!! I am just joking. The first thing is I ask if this is really what they think they want to do for the rest of their life. If the answer is yes, then they more than likely have the passion required for this field. With that, I just let them know to be a sponge. Never be the chef or manager that knows it all. Always learn, even from your employees. It is all about hospitality. Keep your head down, eyes and ears open, and say “Yes, Chef” when necessary. Learn about foods and how they can affect us medically, our health, etc. Keep up with nutrition and sanitation rules/trends.