“It’s art, it’s science and in the end you get to eat,” she said. “What’s not to like?”
Brenda’s culinary career began as a 15-year-old line cook in an Italian restaurant in Freetown, Mass. She grew up in a large family in East Freetown, a place she said was quiet and peaceful and where “you could run at 3 a.m. and nobody would bother you.” A culinary arts student, Brenda graduated from Old Colony Vocational School in Rochester, Mass. in 2001. From there, she went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management. Brenda is currently studying at American International College to earn her master’s degree in Special Education.
“They let me be creative and do what I wanted. They gave me a lot of freedom.”
Brenda’s culinary career has included stints at Judie’s Restaurant in Amherst and as kitchen manager and head chef at Roberto’s in Northampton where she played a large part in reviving the struggling business.
“I loved it,” Brenda said. “They let me be creative and do what I wanted. They gave me a lot of freedom. I started creating daily specials and making the menu more eclectic, more like Northampton.”
In addition to working in restaurants, Brenda has also been a security guard at UMass, basketball referee for the Town of Amherst, and has taught weigh training.
“I like food and I like sports,” she explained.
When not working or in her own kitchen, Brenda likes to engage in all kinds of outdoor activities, including biking, hiking, soccer, basketball, kayaking, rock climbing and more. She also doesn’t own a television, so she likes to read, especially Stephen King novels. Brenda’s last job before becoming baking instructor at FCTS was as an instructional aide in the culinary program at Tri County Schools in Easthampton. She decided to become an educator because she found she loves working with teenagers.
“The kids are fun,” Brenda said. “They’re very intriguing. They’re positive and upbeat. They’re interested in everything and can be very creative with food if you give them the freedom.”
Brenda encourages her students to be innovative, try new things in the kitchen and have fun.
“I want the kids to like what they do,” she said.
As a graduate of a vocational school, Brenda wanted to teach in the same kind of environment. While working at Roberto’s, she found it fulfilling to teach her coworkers who had never been at a stove before how to cook and see them become great chefs.
“It was satisfying to make a difference in someone’s life,” Brenda said. “At Franklin Tech, I can show the students that you can be a young, fun teacher, but still have a lot of knowledge and can create works of art.”
Aside from working with the students, Brenda likes that FCTS gives her the opportunity to give back to the community and the school by raising money through Culinary Arts program activities like baking pies and cookies for the Holidays. The Apprentice Restaurant gives Brenda’s students the unique opportunity to get on the job training while still in school.
“The Apprentice Restaurant gives kids hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in a restaurant,” Brenda said. “It’s like a family because you’re in the trenches together. It’s like working in a real restaurant.”